When I first heard of restorative justice I thought it was a load of rubbish. I thought that all the offender had to do was say sorry and that was it. So how would you know if they were genuine or not? I have come to realise that it is way more than that. To take part in a restorative justice session takes strength and courage from both sides and is way more than a simple "I'm sorry." It is restorative on both sides!

First though, I need to tell you my story. Many years ago my father was murdered. He was a loving dad who went to work one day and never came home. His body was found ten months later but we didn't get any answers as to who or why someone would have shot him at point blank range in the head. I guess for him it was quick but for my family it has been long and painful. The unanswered questions have hung over the family like a black cloud.

People can be cruel and have even said to members of my family that "He must have deserved it! "or "Only bad people get killed." The police are baffled as they say they can find nothing untoward in his life that would lead to this event. They even called him "Mr Clean". Regardless of what people think we know that no one deserves to have their life ended at someone else's hand.

For many years though I lived with hate and anger towards an unknown person who had altered our whole way of life. I wanted revenge! We no longer had a dad and mum had to leave us alone at home to go work and money was tight. You learn to adapt! Life gradually moved on and seemed to settle down to normalcy even though we all carried scars.

When I heard about the Sycamore Tree Project, I wondered, do these people want to hear our side of the story? Do they care or are they just doing it to fill in time? After the very first session I felt at ease as they were just as scared to come into the room as us. The facilitator was great and gave us some ice breaker activities which put us all at ease and put us all on the same level. We began to share our stories even on day one.

Over the weeks I felt compassion for these men regardless of what they were in for--whether it was drugs, robbery or murder they were all people like you and me. They also gave the victims respect and sat and listened to our stories which were all very varied. Many tears were shed on both sides – the victims and the offenders. I always knew that there were stories that were very traumatic and that I have not suffered like some people. I was more part of the ripple effect however these events have impacted my life.

I am grateful for having the opportunity to do the Sycamore Tree Project and know that I have forgiveness in my heart for the people who have affected my life through their criminal actions. I also have compassion for the men we met through STP and believe that having done this course they have learnt that their actions impact a lot of people. I believe that they will leave jail as better men with compassion for others. I would recommend that if you are considering doing STP then do it as you will find a place to be heard and it will help in your path towards healing.

From Sycamore Voices courtesy of Prison Fellowship Australia.