We didn’t know what to expect.
For the first time, my husband Tim and I were taking part in Sycamore Tree. We were there as victims of crime, telling our story to prisoners on the course.
In January 2014, our son, Dan, died from multiple organ failure, three days after taking ecstasy at his first ever rave. He was just 16, and the last person anyone would expect to come to harm from drugs. The young man who sold them to him was jailed for five years for supply of class A drugs.
After Dan died, we connected with Ray and Vi Donovan, who also lost their son tragically, and who share their story on Sycamore Tree, a victim awareness and restorative justice course for prisoners, run by Prison Fellowship.
Ray and Vi told us all about the course and how the sycamore tree in the story of Zacchaeus is a symbol of forgiveness and restoration.
The day after hearing about Sycamore Tree for the first time, we went to visit Dan’s grave. The decision of where he should be buried was an incredibly hard one, but we had chosen a plot under the shade of a tree. Imagine our astonishment to realise it was a sycamore tree!
We agreed to tell our story on a Sycamore Tree course at HMP Brixton. Since then we have spoken on dozens of courses, to hundreds of prisoners. The learners engage with us every time. All we do is tell our story. We tell them what it was like to lose Dan, and to then sit through the trial and listen to the defendant. The learners we meet in prison often haven’t thought about the other side of the story. It is always a very intense and moving time.
In one session, after we had shared Dan’s story, a woman experienced her own lightbulb moment. She was serving time for supplying class A drugs, but also had a son the same age as Dan. She confessed, “I didn’t think there might be victims of my crime. It could have been my own son.”
The sycamore tree’s seeds spin out as they fall — you don’t know where they are going to land. In the same way, we can’t ever know fully what impact the Sycamore Tree course will have on a prisoner. In the final session, many of them choose to stand up and make a declaration about their remorse. But we know that step is just one on the long and difficult journey they have before them to turn their lives around. And so we pray what they learn on the course, and what they experience, will give them strength in the difficult days to come.
Whenever we tell Dan’s story, we pray that it would bear much fruit, that from something so terrible would come life, hope and redemption. The only way this can happen is through God. We believe there is nothing so bad that God can’t redeem it and bring good from bad, light from darkness, life from death.
It is a privilege for Tim and me to be part of the work that God is doing in prisoners’ lives. Today I want to ask if you will join us in this work. Prison Fellowship offers the Sycamore Tree course completely free to prisons and prisoners, because they believe in its life-transforming potential. It costs just £180 for one prisoner to take the six-week course. Please would you consider making a gift today to support a Sycamore Tree learner as they begin the journey of turning their life around?
£15 each month could enable one learner to complete a Sycamore Tree course.
A one-off donation of £48 could provide all the workbooks for a Sycamore Tree course of 20 learners.
Our son, Dan, was so young when he died. He had all his life ahead of him. The best restitution the offender could make would be to live his best life now, to live life in all its fullness. And that is what we hope for every Sycamore Tree learner we meet.
With heartfelt thanks,