Learning respect for a victim’s pain – a powerful speech to prisoners and criminal justice officials

Learning respect for a victim’s pain – a powerful speech to prisoners and criminal justice officials

A Brisbane mother of three gave this powerful speech after completing the 8-week Sycamore Tree program. Belinda Cairns (pictured at right) overcame fear of joining the program to experience healing and transformation.

When I first began the program I was recovering from a broken right wrist, it was a bad break and extremely painful. In greeting the residents I had to offer my right wrist – these guys have strong handshakes and a couple of times I actually winced in pain.

In order for me to be acquainted with the participants I had to offer something of myself, which hurt. In turn the guys learnt to not shake my hand hard and they developed a respect for my pain. Eight weeks on I can offer my hand without the fear of pain, as there has been a healing process.

I believe that this resembles what happens within the program. As victims begin to tell of their pain and the ripple-effects of crime of their lives, the offenders start to understand the impact of their actions. In turn they learn respect for a victims pain. The healing process can begin.

I had heard about the program through members of my family who had attended several previous programs, and to be honest I was happy to just hear the stories and had no intention of ever becoming part of the program.

I was dubious for several reasons, one I had never visited a correctional centre before, and two I had unwittingly created a dualism in my presuppositions about victims and offenders. My heart was for helping victims, and to me, offenders were people who willingly inflicted pain on others and undeserving of my attention.

I am the youngest daughter of a murdered car salesman and with that title and that part of my identity comes great pain. I endured growing up with being stigmatised, ostracised, bullied and belittled. The ripple effects of that act of murder 35 years ago are still prevalent today. I grew up knowing only the aftermath of murder, chaos, police investigations, media attention and then nothing but the reality of living without an integral member of my family.

The loss of my father had an indelible impact on my sense of safety and security and consequently I have suffered great insecurities and loss of self worth.

So, to sit in a correctional centre and offer that part of my story, my identity was not easy, yet, it was also extremely cathartic. As I began to hear their stories and to see their pain I began to realise that they too experience stigmatisation, ostracisation, bullying and belittling.

Crime does unite us, and I hope that by me offering my brokenness that it will help stop the treadmill of violence that they have been running on for years. I hope that they will live a life free of crime from now on so that they can free another child from the pain that I have had to endure from the act of murder.

I hope that their children can feel the warmth of sitting on their fathers lap and know that they are safe.


Martin lives in Brisbane Australia and loves meeting and writing about the amazing people who are changing our justice system. He is a prison facilitator for the Sycamore Tree Project in Queensland, Australia.