Jan Hancock has been a Sycamore Tree volunteer for six years. But how did she become involved and what have been her experiences? We caught up with Jan to find out.
I have always been interested in restorative justice (RJ). I’m a teacher by training and a parent. RJ is meaningful in the outside world and is a powerful tool for a teacher.
A PF member came to speak at a Mothers’ Union meeting where I’m a member, and spoke about the work in prisons. I was working full-time back then but I thought, “one day I could get involved.” Sometime later, I happened to sit next to a Sycamore Tree Group Facilitator (GF). She talked to me about ST and invited me to a session 6 at HMP Send.
That was my first time inside a prison. I couldn’t believe how like me they were. It’s a fine line—that could have been me. I started to volunteer as a GF in 2013, and then became a tutor in 2016.
It is such a wonderful experience seeing God at work—being close to the forefront of God’s work transforming so many lives. As a volunteer, I am so aware that these women’s freedom has been taken away. And that I have no idea of their anxieties. We often pray for the prison at night. It makes me feel humble to be given a little window into their world — that I can be welcomed into that world.
My faith has played a big part in me getting involved in prison work—being forgiven and being given a fresh start. If we cannot be at the forefront of that, then we have lost our way.
Being an ST Tutor is rather different to being a classroom teacher. It’s a different emphasis to school. You don’t know the women personally as you do in a classroom—you don’t have time to build up relationships in the same way.
The tutor is totally dependent on the GFs—it’s a real team effort. It’s amazing to see our learners grow in confidence. Currently, everyone who volunteers on ST is also helping in other areas of chaplaincy. I am a mentor on the Making Connections course, helping to prepare women for release.
I often hear, “I can’t believe there are volunteers who want to spend time with people like me.”
Before each course, we interview each of the women. We make it clear to them that the course requires a six-week commitment, and we can also address any issues around learning difficulties. The interviews mean we know the women a little before we start and this makes session one much smoother.
One woman once told me, “It’s the only course where I’ve ever been asked the question ’why did you offend?’ and ‘what must you do to change?’” These are powerful questions.
If someone was considering volunteering as a GF or tutor, I would suggest visiting a week 6 first to get a feel for what ST is aiming to do. Then, start as a GF to get a sense of how the course unfolds. Nearly every woman [who does the course at HMP Send] has ST on their sentence plan. This presents its challenges as you will get one or two each course who in session 1 really don’t want to be there. But you get to see them change—and that’s very exciting.
One woman told me, “I didn’t want to do this course. I didn’t think I had any victims. But now I realise that I have lots of victims. Sycamore Tree has changed my life and the way I see the future.”
If you are interested in becoming a Sycamore Tree volunteer, you can find out more about the programme here, and apply to become a PF volunteer. If you have any questions, or would like to be invited to visit the last session on a course near you, please contact the Support Team.