Presenting a certificate to a prisoner undergoing a ‘restorative justice programme’ is an act that very few people will do in their lives.
This doesn’t, however, apply to the Liberal Democrat’s candidate for the Croydon North constituency.
Dr Claire Bonham, 40, Strategic Head of the Salvation Army, used to work for Prison Fellowship, a charity which brings together victims of criminal offences and prisoners themselves.
Dr Bonham said: “We used to spend time with young offenders and murderers.
“You got into a room and they are jovial and chatty and then the victim would tell their story and the atmosphere would completely change.”
The candidate, who lives in Crystal Palace, took groups of between four to five prisoners through a six- week course which included them meeting victims of crime who were not directly linked to the criminal themselves.
She explained that once a week at the Christian organisation, she would tell the prisoners the bible story of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector in Jericho.
The story states Zacchaeus was seen in a sycamore tree by Jesus who told him to come down and subsequently preached to him about his self-righteousness. Afterwards, Zacchaeus decided he would give four times more to the poor.
Dr Bonham would then relate the story back to the offenders’ own crime and encourage them to think about how the victims felt before meeting them.
She said: “The offenders don’t really think about it and how it made them feel.”
A victim would be introduced to the prisoner in week three and then would return in week six which offered the prisoner the opportunity to do a symbolic act of ‘restitution’ and say something to the victims.
She explained: “The prisoners were very creative. Sometimes they would write poems, sometimes they would rap, make works out of match sticks or draw to express their words. It was a very powerful experience.
“One of the best experiences I had was going into a young offender’s institute. On week six, the young offenders invite their families and so when they say sorry, they are not just apologising to the victims themselves but also to their own families.”
The victims’ experiences range from being burgled to grieving for a murdered child.
She said: “One time they had no governor to give out the certificates and they asked me to do it. For some people it is the first certificate they have ever had and so to have that opportunity was very moving.
“Social injustice is my passion. It is what really drives me.
“I believe in terms of becoming an MP or at any level of representation, what we should be doing is amplifying the voices of people who are marginalised instead of speaking for people.
“I don’t want to stand up there and speak for everybody else, I want other people’s voices to be heard. I don’t presume to speak for a particular group of people.
“That is how I see representative politics.”
Dr Bonham, who grew up in Kent and started to properly get involved in politics in 2016, is running for the Liberal Democrats party for the second time having campaigned in the 2017 by-election in South Norwood.