John Sage, whose mother was killed in a break-in at her Houston apartment, has for 17 years run Bridges to Life, in which counselors run a 14-week course for prison inmates, writes Mark Obbie for Slate. The program attempts to give prisoners a sense of empathy for and accountability to their victims. If that happens, they may be more likely to care enough about themselves and others to live more responsibly once they're released from prison. About 25,000 inmates have completed the course.
What sets Bridges to Life apart from other inmate educational programs is its volunteer teaching staff, made up of many crime victims or murder victims' survivors. Obbie writes that, “These victim-counselors deliver a message of redemption through apology and atonement, using their own painful stories to drive home the devastating effects of crime on others.” Bridges to Life serves as a test of whether a privately funded program that exposes criminals directly to victims' stories of loss can accomplish what prisons usually failed to do: break the recidivism cycle that dooms a majority of ex-convicts to commit new crimes and return to prison. The experiences of its volunteers raises the possibility that victims might find more solace in helping criminals than by throwing the book at them.