A common feature among criminals is a lack of empathy. Most of them have an inability to feel for the plight of their victims. To the criminal, they harm people because they want to and they can. All that matters is them and everyone else is insignificant.
A common feature among victims is a feeling of rage and helplessness. Usually without warning, someone has come and taken property or damaged lives. The victims can't turn back the clock and recover what's been lost, they just have to move on and live with the damage done.
Bridges to Life is a non-profit organization primarily made of volunteers that brings victims and convicts together. They help convicts have a change of heart by showing them the damage that is done to a crime victim. The criminals are forced to confront the pain caused by crime and see just what they have wrought. Without empathy, the only thing preventing a criminal from commiting another crime is the fear of returning to prison. The victims who volunteer gain a measure of peace and forgiveness through this process.
The message left by prison is "don't get caught." The message left by Bridges to Life is "respect the lives of others."
Victims of violent crime come into the prison to “tell their story” and show the inmates the effect crime has had on their lives. Often for the first time, inmates see victims as real people rather than objectifying them as they have in the past. This allows inmates to deal with their past in a rehabilitative and redemptive manner, often avowing never to hurt someone again. Victims can also experience significant healing through the process of this program. One of the things victims want most is acknowledgment that what was done to them was wrong. Acknowledgment by incarcerated offenders is part of the healing process for the victims.How effective is it? The photos interspersed throughout this post are the graduates of Bridges' 12 week process. Their recidivism rate is less than 15% compared to a general prison population rate of about 50%. Bridges to Life has won several awards from the government of Texas for their outstanding work. What impressed me the most were the comments from the inmates themselves.
"After 21 years of prison, I got my compassion back for human beings and respect for family. You find truth within yourself. I never knew the hurt and pain I caused until I sat in front of a victim."
"I never realized how much a stranger could love me. You all looked beyond the bad and the ugly. This changes people. Bridges To Life put a face on forgiveness."
"This program has given me a view of people that I have never had before. No longer is a store just a store; it's a place where a real person is, someone who would become a victim."
From a crime victim Bridges volunteer: "I cannot adequately describe what it is like to come out to our meetings. I nervously walk through the prison yard. I start the small group meeting and see the welcome faces of the inmates and experience the presence of God."Here's more about Bridges to Life from their website.
The process requires many volunteers who are at the heart of this work. Over 250 volunteers have been involved in Bridges To Life thus far. The primary motive of crime victims who come into prison is to help prevent others from experiencing the devastation and pain that their families have been forced to endure due to the horrible actions of offenders. All volunteers experience the blessing of “making a difference” in the lives of others. Many of the volunteers participate in multiple projects each year. Once experienced, our work becomes a “program of attraction.” It represents a true model of the Gospel of Jesus and encompasses His primary teachings of mercy, compassion, love and forgiveness.Wow. Talk about a World of Good. For a description of why we WOG, a list of previous WOGs and how you can help the WOG process, please visit this post.
Photos from the Bridges to Life website used without permission. Please visit their website to find out more and learn how you can help.