Forgiveness at landmark Norfolk prison course
By Annabel Valentine
2010: A Christian-based restorative justice course has been run for the 1000th time in a UK prison, at Wayland Prison in Norfolk, and included the extraordinary story of forgiveness of a couple whose teenage son was murdered nine years ago.
For the past six years, Prison Fellowship volunteers in Wayland Prison have been presenting and facilitating the Sycamore Tree course in restorative justice. The most recent course completed on December 14 at Wayland was a milestone, being the 1,000th to be run in UK prisons and giving rise to a special celebration.
Representing victims of crime were Ray and Vi Donovan (pictured above), who shared the extraordinary testimony of how they came to be able to forgive the young men who caused the death of their 18-year-old son nine years ago, when he was beaten to death by a gang in an unprovoked attack.
The six-week course, devised by Prison Fellowship and accredited by the Open College Network, is based on the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19, and seeks to bring offenders to full awareness of the far-reaching effects of crime on their immediate victims, their families, the wider community and indeed themselves.
Issues of taking responsibility for our own actions, forgiveness of others and self are explored, together with the need for both victims and offenders to be restored. On week three, a victim of crime comes in to tell about the impact of crime on their lives and on the final day, participants are given the opportunity of making a symbolic act of restitution.
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service, said: "The Sycamore Tree course operates on the principle of restorative justice and the positive response from participants is really heartening. The course is now being formally evaluated externally. I look forward to the outcome of this process."
Natalie Cronin, Chief Executive of Prison Fellowship (England & Wales), said: “Sycamore Tree is a fantastic course that helps offenders face up to the reality of what they have done to the victim and challenges them to make a change. It gives victims a voice and it allows the community to play a part in restoring the damage and mess created by crime.”
She added: “We are so proud of our learners, victims and volunteers. We want to see every prisoner who is eligible have access to this amazing opportunity. To do this we need prisons to sign up for Sycamore Tree, victims and volunteers to come forward, so that we can demonstrate that lives can indeed be turned around.”
The Wayland Group is actively seeking new volunteers and we would welcome enquiries from anyone who would like to find out more.