Prisoners complete victim-awareness programme

| 22/07/2016
CNS Local Life

Female prisoners who completed the Sycamore Tree Project during celebration attended by Ministry of Home Affairs representatives, prison staff, partner agencies and family members

(CNS): The second and third offering of the Sycamore Tree Project has been completed with 19 inmates of both HMP Northward and HMP Fairbanks participating. Prison chaplain Cathy Gomez facilitated the victim-awareness programme in both prisons, with chaplaincy volunteers, a psychology intern, prison officers and other staff taking part whenever possible. The Sycamore Tree Project is a Prison Fellowship International programme based on restorative justice, bringing offenders and victims together to repair broken relationships, including with family members, friends, neighbours or even strangers.

The female and male inmates each held celebration ceremonies this month at HMP Fairbanks and HMP Northward, respectively. Volunteers from partner agencies, the National Workforce Development Agency and the National Drug Council attended, as well as the inmates’ families.

Some of the female inmates read expressions of regret and pleas for forgiveness, said a press release from the HM Cayman Islands Prison Service. One inmate read her letter to her former employer who she had wronged and expressed her sincere apologies to him citing greed and selfishness as her motivation. She said that the whole experience hurt not only her employer whose trust she had broken, but also made victims of those she cared most about, her family.

She stated she now recognised the error of her ways and the full impact of her actions. The inmate didn’t know if her employer would ever forgive her but through the programme, she said she had to do what she could to make things right.

Although the Sycamore Tree Project is designed to bring victims of crime and offenders together, this continues to prove to be a challenge in the Cayman context. It was recognised in the initial stages of the programme that persons in the community were uncomfortable with meeting offenders for mediation and possible reconciliation. However, as this is ideally how prisoners are able to benefit most from the programme, prison director Neil Lavis said that the Prison Service remains committed to conducting the programme as designed and will continue to encourage victims to engage in the progress.

Gomez emphasised that although people are in prison for committing offences against others and the community, each one is also a victim, having also experienced hurt at the hands of others. Likewise, she said everyone is an offender in that we have all hurt others at some point in our lives.

The inmates performed exercises and held discussions over the eight-week programme on such topics as responsibility, confession and repentance, forgiveness, making amends and reconciliation. They also explored the impact their choices and behaviour had on the lives of others.

The project goes beyond prison sentences, fines and rehabilitation efforts and has the potential to reduce crime rates and allow whole communities to heal.

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