I saw this again when I visited Prison Fellowship Cambodia to conduct Sycamore Tree Project® training. The eleven training participants have a wealth of experience working in prison and with the families of prisoners.  So, we went through an activity to explore the needs of victims and how crime can affect people in different ways. During the exercise, two of the young men felt compelled to share their personal stories of physical and emotional abuse when they were young. It was a powerful moment as they found a voice and described their own experiences of victimisation.  These stories resonated with many of the themes we explored throughout the discussion of restorative justice and the sessions that make up the Sycamore Tree Project®.

For me, the time in Cambodia offered a strong reminder of how we all have a story to tell. While we haven’t all been victims of crime, we have all been seriously harmed by the behaviour of others in some way. We carry burdens and wounds that we don’t often share with others. But it’s more than that, we all – if we’re honest – can also share stories of harm we have caused to others. Yes, we all have a story or stories to tell. 

This is the beauty behind restorative justice encounters.  Regardless of whether the meeting is between direct victims and offenders or indirect, the sharing of stories provides a humanising effect that says we are all part of one community. We all have been harmed and we have all created harm. The stories we listen to can become mirrors helping us see ourselves and our behaviour in a new light as well as understand the experiences of others.  When combined, our stories become the basis for building community and understanding justice in a way that brings life. 

This new understanding of justice – as something that brings life and healing instead of simply punishment – is why I find the sharing of stories during training to be important. Once we understand ourselves and our stories, we are better equipped to help people share their stories in a safe environment that encourages respect and understanding.