The social worker emailed me “he must be on the programme” she wrote. “No”, I wrote back “I wish you had told me about this before the interviews, but we could risk a fight if we bump someone for him now”.
Three days later the social worker informed me that someone had 'voluntarily' dropped out. HE was back in. I was to find out later that he had paid that 'someone' a packet of biscuits for a place on the programme!
He was a model participant. Honest, earnest and a quick learner. Halfway through the programme he told his story. Shame oozed out of him – from his red face and downcast eyes through to his shuffling feet. But he left no detail out... how he had followed an eighteen year old woman home from the pub one night. How he had grabbed her and pulled her down an embankment. How he had raped her.
This was not the first rape confession we heard that week. But it was the most honest. He told us how he had thought about raping someone for years. How he had not known what to do with these thoughts which clouded up his mind - thoughts which had become more and more powerful until eventually he had given into them.
He was deeply ashamed. He believed he deserved his prison sentence - and any other punishment we, as a society, would want to inflict on him. He believed he deserved to be beaten up in jail - and frequently was. He believed he had been created evil.
Two of the victim participants had been raped. It was painful for them to listen to his story - they cried as he spoke and one of them shook uncontrollably. Even though it was so difficult, it was also healing for them to be able to let him know how this type of crime had affected them. One woman had gone from relationship to relationship -- never really finding true love (the kind that accepts you no matter what). The other woman had given in to various addictions in order to dull the pain of her brokenness.
During the programme he wrote to the victim of his crime, the young girl he had raped. He told her how sorry he was for what he had done and that he deserved to stay in jail until he was completely rehabilitated. He promised to do every programme and get all the help he could to make sure he would never rape again. He told her that he was completely responsible for his actions and that he had no excuses.
And he told her how he had done a Sycamore Tree Programme which had put him on the road to radical change. The most radical change was that he now had hope. He had hope that he could be a different man - a man of honour, gentleness, kindness, self-control, strength, honesty and love. He wasn't there yet. But he had hope.…
Six months later I bumped into one of the two victim participants. She told me that she had quit her job after the programme... “I could not do the same old thing after Sycamore,” she said. “I have been empowered to BE more and to GIVE more. At last I am free and I want to do something meaningful with my life now!”
...And a couple of weeks ago I interviewed a young lady who wanted to volunteer as a victim participant in a Sycamore Tree Programme. She told me that when she was eighteen she had been raped while walking home from the pub one night… She said her offender had written to her and told her that he had done a Sycamore Tree Programme. That he had had to bribe his way onto the programme with a packet of biscuits, but that it had been well worth it, because he was on a road to radical change. A road of hope...