Prisoners face victims of their crimes in forgiveness project

Sycamore Tree Project graduates with Prison Chaplain Cathy Gomez and Prison Service Director Neil Lavis.

A group of Northward Prison inmates have come face to face with the victims of their crimes in a project that aims to make prisoners more aware of the impact of their criminal actions.

The eight-week program, called the Sycamore Tree Project, was introduced by prison director Neil Lavis, who had seen what he described as the “powerful effect” of the program in his former posting in Wales.

On Sunday, April 3, seven inmates who had completed the program celebrated with fellow inmates, staff and family members in attendance at a ceremony that marked the culmination of the project.

Organizers said the program “unites offenders with victims of crime to open dialogue, promote understanding, forgiveness and restoration.”

Speaking to a packed prison chapel, Mr. Lavis applauded the participants for having the courage to “face their past and do the hard work of acknowledging the impact of their actions on themselves and others,” according to a press release issued by Her Majesty’s Cayman Islands Prison Service.

Ten inmates started the program and nine completed it (two were released prior to the night’s service).

Several of the inmates who took part in the Sycamore Tree project gave testimonies during the service, speaking of the benefits of attending the program and encouraging other inmates to attend the next series planned for May 2016.

Prison Chaplain Cathy Gomez said she was overjoyed by the work the inmates did and how much each one grew during the process.

According to the release, she “highlighted that the program focused on the fact that everyone is an offender having all done something to hurt another person.

Conversely, she stated that we are all victims as well, having all been hurt by another. “It is this common ground where healing and restoration can begin. Each participant was encouraged to not only seek to ask forgiveness, forgive others but also forgive themselves for past mistakes.”

The program was conducted at Northward prison on a weekly basis by Ms. Gomez and staff volunteers Officer Irvin Long and Supervisor Julia King.

“The program was a great success,” Ms. Gomez said, “and I look forward to more and more of the inmates taking advantage of future offerings.”