“It Has Been An Eye-Opener”
Robert is an inmate in Australia who took part in a restorative justice course offered by Prison Fellowship International.
“My name’s Robert. I’m a long-term prisoner here. This isn’t my first time in jail. In regards to the [Prison Fellowship International’s] Sycamore Tree Project®, I’d like to say that this is the first time that I’ve ever done anything behind bars that has made me think about what I’ve actually done, not ‘what am I going to do to stay out of trouble,’ not ‘how am I going to get myself out of here.’
“But for the first time since I got locked up, listening to these victims has made me stop and think—not just while I’m doing the course, but when I’ve gone back inside of my cell at nighttime—and what I’ve actually done and how this affected people. And not just the victims, not just the police. It is the whole community. I never really had much sense of community. It has been an eye-opener.
“I’d like to say when I first started doing this course, my first day there, this lovely bunch of people come in, and I was almost terrified. I don’t ever really remember being scared in my life.
But for the first time, I was actually terrified. And it was the first time for me in a lot of years that I’ve actually been around normal people. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how to act, or what I wanted to hear or anything like that. But then I got over it and they made me feel like a normal person. They made me feel quite welcome, so thank you very much.
“Hearing these stories, like I said, makes you think deeply. When you first get arrested, you’re more worried about what’s going to happen next, how long are you going to be in jail, how you’re going to survive in here, who you’re going to have to deal with. You think about what you have done; but to be honest, you’re more worried about how you’re going to get away with it, or how you got caught.
“And when you actually see these people and hear the stories, you stop and think, it does sink in and it makes you realize that what you’re doing isn’t just hurting one victim.
“I was really shocked to learn about the impact on the victims—like an armed robbery victim. I never realized how much it affected them. Some of these people not only lost their jobs as a result of the trauma, but it affected their relationships with their family. You just don’t think about this sort of things in the heat of the moment.
“Like I said, this is the first thing I’ve done in jail that has made me think. I’ve done a few courses in here but they’ve been to get parole or I do because Sentence Management wants me to do them. I volunteered to participate and am so glad that I did. I’ve taken a lot from it and I think it can help other people in the future.
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Story and photo credit: Martin Howard, Sycamore Tree Project®, Queensland, Australia