The story of the tax collector (Zacchaeus) is a favorite among kids in Sunday School. He wanted to see the Lord Jesus Christ but was very short so he climbed a sycamore tree. The Lord saw him and decided to go to his house for tea.
Zacchaeus was touched by the Lord’s visit and decided to rethink his ways. He decided to take responsibility for the wrongs he had done and chose to make restitution.
The Sycamore Tree Project is borne out of the lessons in this story. It is a victim awareness programme that creates increased awareness of the impact of a crime on the victim, offender and the community at large.
Through its Sycamore Tree Project, Prison Fellowship Nigeria brings victims and offenders (not exact match of actual offender and his/her victim) under the guidance of a trained PF facilitator.
They explore the harsh effects of crime and listen to each other’s story. This is done in ways that reveal the hurts, fears and emotions. This is done in such a way that the offender chooses to rethink his/her crime.
Furthermore, the discourse leads the offender to a point where he/she sees the need to take responsibility and offer apology. This is done in ways that make repeat offending improbable.
This process validates the rights of the victim, helps the healing process while promoting reconciliation of relationships and restoration of community.
Does it work?
A study by Sheffield Hallam University’s Research Centre for Community Justice showed that…
1. Participants were less likely to re-offend after completing the programme.
2. Participants developed increased awareness of the effect of their actions/crimes on victims.
Many prisoners spend their time thinking about how to “deal” with those who got them into their situation. Many feel the society has wronged them without paying any attention to the great harm they have caused. That’s why many re-offend within five years.
However, this changes once they develop an increased awareness of the effects of their crimes and take responsibility. A number of them spend more time thinking of ways to make restitution. This reduces the likelihood of re-offending.