News and Updates from the Family

Issue 31 | July 26, 2023

Best Practice (BP):

Best practices are specific, discrete ministry activities that measurably increase program scale, effectiveness, and/or efficiency, and can be replicated by other National Ministries. Best practices should be supported by evidence (data).

Support Victims During Participation of Sycamore Tree Project

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National ministries should consider victim1 needs as they implement their programs and activities, like the Sycamore Tree Project® (STP).

When you prepare victims to share their stories and support them as they participate in STP, the session will more likely meet their needs and make a greater impact on inmate participants.

1PFI recognizes that labels like “victim” and “offender” narrowly define people and risk stigmatizing them. Often, the victim/offender distinction is blurred. Still, we often use “victim” in this document for clarity and conciseness.



  • What accommodations can you make for victims so they can freely and authentically share?
  • What precautions can you take to minimize safety risks?
  • How might you follow up with victims to make sure the encounter met their needs?


  • How can victims have greater input in sessions so they feel more in control and confident when sharing?
  • How can you empower participants to maintain a safe and respectful environment?


  • Do your words and actions show respect to victims, inmate participants and prison officials?
  • How can you facilitate interaction that breaks down fear and distrust between the participants?

Step 1: Support Before the Session

In the days and hours before victims share, make sure they are mentally and emotionally ready. Provide support to increase their confidence.

  • Call to check-in. Call victim participants the day before or morning of the session to see how they’re doing. Remind them of prison dos and don’ts and to bring any required identification or other documents with them.
    • At times, life circumstances and stresses could impact victims’ ability to share. Keep communication channels open for victims to let you know how they’re feeling.
    • Probe to discern whether victims are simply nervous or are mentally or emotionally vulnerable to the point where their participation risks harming them.
  • Travel together to the prison. Make sure staff or volunteers travel with victims to the prison.
    • When possible, meet victims at their homes, especially if they’re sharing for the first time.
    • Use travel time to check-in and help make victim feel comfortable.
  • Stay with victims the entire prison visit.
    • At the prison, someone on the STP team should accompany victims the duration of the prison visit.
    • Encourage a prison chaplain or other prison official to meet the STP team at the prison entrance and accompany them to and from the room where the session will take place.
  • Arrive to room before inmate participants. Introduce victims to others on the STP team and the space they will share before inmate participants arrive. Review the session structure and when they will share.
  • Give victims a voice about the session.
    • Where do victims want to sit and who do they want sitting next to them (e.g. support person or specific PF staff or volunteer)?
    • How do victims want to be introduced? Beforehand, speak about contextual information they’re okay with you sharing to inmates about the crime and their background.
    • Do victims want to join for the entire session? Encourage victims to attend the entire session. But respect their decision if they only want to join when it’s time for them to share.

Step 2: Support During the Session

  • Provide opportunities for victims and inmates to connect.
    • Create opportunities for victims and inmates to interact before the session begins. It’s easier for victims to share their story when they have a level of familiarity with the participants.
    • Plan introductions and icebreakers that are culturally and contextually sensitive to lighten the mood and give victims and participants a chance to know one another better.
    • Prepare snacks and drinks before and/or after the session to give participants a chance to know one another better.
  • Facilitate session using a circle format. Circle processes create a more intimate sharing environment. Follow this suggested framework when facilitating discussions:
    • Reaffirm values. Review session values that inmates have already agreed to follow. Give victims a chance to share values they need everyone to respect so they feel comfortable to participate and share their story.
    • Build rapport. Ask a lighthearted prompt to open sharing and build comfort among the participants.
    • Victim shares story. Victims hold a talking piece and share their story while inmate participants listen deeply.
    • Inmate participants share reflections and ask questions.
      • After victim shares, participants pass talking piece around circle. Each inmate shares reflections that came up and asks follow-up questions, if they have any. Consider having STP team members participate in this time of sharing.
      • Victim notes down questions but waits until each inmate has shared before answering them all at once at the end. Victims may designate someone on the STP team to note down questions.
    • Victim answers questions, then passes talking piece around circle again. After the victim responds to questions, participants again pass around talking piece and contribute further to discussion. Repeat pattern until all participants have nothing further to share or time for the session ends.
    • Close session.
      • Leave time at the end to ask a prompt for participants to briefly share final thoughts or feelings about the session.
      • In a culturally and contextually appropriate way, express gratitude and affirm the victim’s courage for sharing.
  • Accommodations for victims during the session.
    • Provide emotional support.
      • Family member or friend. Give victims the option to bring a trusted person, like a family member, friend or mentor.
      • PF facilitator. Depending on need, PF facilitators can stay with victims during the entire process and sit next to them.
      • Other victim participants. Give victim participants the option to invite victims who have shared in past STP courses. But keep in mind how extra people will impact the session’s effectiveness.
    • Take breaks. Let victims know they can take a break at any point while sharing.
      • Facilitators should monitor victims’ verbal and nonverbal cues regarding wellbeing and check how they’re doing during the session.
      • If sharing becomes too difficult or risks causing harm, facilitators can pause the session and discuss whether they need a short or extended break or to postpone sharing for another day, if at all.
    • Bring tissues and water for participants, since sharing and interactions often become emotional.

Step 3: Support After the Session

  • Follow up immediately after session, ask victims how they are feeling and how they think the session went. Plan another follow up conversation and ask how they want it to go (phone call, coffee, etc.).
  • In a second follow up conversation, check on support victims are receiving from counselors, family or other support systems.
    • Ask about the sessions impact: What went well? Were needs met? What could be improved upon?
    • Get feedback on session’s impact from inmate participants and share with victim during the follow-up conversation.
  • STP graduation. If victims participate in only one session to share their story, encourage them to attend the STP graduation to bring closure to the process.
  • Evaluation. At least quarterly, STP staff and volunteers from different prisons should meet as a group to evaluate the session’s impact on inmate and victim participants and discuss ways to improve the process.

Key Practices

  • Invite victims to bring photos or objects to use when sharing their stories. They may also want to give inmate participants written messages. Make sure objects and messages are appropriate. Check with prison officials for permission to bring them.
  • At any point before victims join, facilitators may need to postpone the session if victims express they’re mentally and emotionally unready. Don’t feel pressured to go forward with a session if victims voice these concerns.
  • Communicate with the prison chaplain or other prison official to see if security procedures for victims can be relaxed and made less intimidating and invasive.
  • Prepare victims for unexpected delays or disruptions that may occur during the visit. Plan to have someone on your team stay with them and provide emotional support during these delays.
  • During introductions, staff and volunteers should greet victims in culturally and contextually appropriate ways so victim feel welcome and safe.
  • Discuss the use of labels during the session and whether victim participants want to be referred to as “victim”, “survivor”, “person harmed” or other term.
  • Use the victims first name only when introducing them to eliminate concerns about inmates learning their identity and where they live or work.
  • Before the session, separately remind inmates and victims about maintaining appropriate relationship boundaries. Caution inmates from seeking, and victims from giving, contact information to continue communication after the visit.
  • Consider taking a break between when the victim finishes sharing and when inmates share reflections and ask questions.
  • Before the session, facilitators should empower inmate participants to monitor the session and stop or correct improper comments/questions that disrespect victims or create an unsafe environment.
  • If victims tend to dissociate when sharing their stories, before the session help them  discover strategies to stay present, such as holding sensory objects like spiked massage balls.
  • Use car rides back from the prison to have follow up conversations about the session. Keep in mind confidentiality depending on others in the vehicle.
  • Use digital technology to facilitate regular conversations among STP teams. Consider starting a WhatsApp group or host regular online discussions on Zoom or other video communication platform to build connection and share experiences.
  • Connect interested victim participants with third party restorative justice organizations that could facilitate a restorative encounter with the actual person who harmed them. Also, consider facilitating follow-up conversations between victims and inmate participants, if the victim desires.


What resources are required? 

  • Time required for staff and volunteers to offer support and follow up with victims when they share.
  • Talking piece, paper and markers to use when facilitating the circle process.
  • Snacks and drinks for program participants before and/or after the STP session.
  • Training on trauma-informed practice for staff and volunteers as they engage victims and inmates.

How can I learn more?

  • Contact one of these national ministry leaders if you need more support:

NM with Demonstrated Experience in this BP