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The 14-week Bridges to Life program is based on a carefully constructed experiential curriculum that has been written and revised over the last 16 years. The primary components of the curriculum are the Restoring Peace book, the Bridges to Life Study Guide, and the Bridges to Life Facilitator Manual. Each of the project’s 14 weeks is focused on one topic. Every session creates understanding about the importance of that topic in the process of healing and restoring peace; In addition, participants are engaged in a way that makes the topic personally relevant and meaningful. The weekly topics are:
Week One: Orientation
Week Two: Getting Started
Week Three: Crime and Conflict
Week Four: Faith
Week Five: Stories
Week Six: Responsibility
Week Seven: Accountability
Week Eight: Confession
Week Nine: Repentance
Week Ten: Forgiveness
Week Eleven: Reconciliation
Week Twelve: Restitution
Week Thirteen: The Journey
Week Fourteen: Graduation
History of the Bridges to Life Program (BTL)
Bridges To Life was founded in 1998 by Houstonian John Sage after the brutal murder of his sister, Marilyn, in 1993. His sister’s killers were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. John began to realize the terrible toll his sister’s murder had taken on his life, the lives of everyone else in his family, Marilyn’s friends and the community. After reflection, prayer, and time, John was able to forgive his sister’s murderers; and he realized that he had a place in his heart for all offenders. This life-changing experience inspired John to develop Bridges to Life, a rehabilitation program where crime victims interact directly with offenders in prison. The Bridges to Life curriculum has been used in prisons in ten states and four foreign countries. To date, more than 21,000 offenders have graduated from the BTL program.
The Process
A small group format is utilized to emphasize confidentiality and create a safe environment for inmates and victims. Small groups include ten inmates and two volunteer facilitators. The primary function of the facilitators is to ask key (sometimes tough) questions that encourage self-disclosure and promote relevant, honest sharing and empathetic listening.

The foundation of the process is victims/survivors of violence sharing their stories. Inmates come face to face with the devastating impact of their actions on individuals and families. They see how they are responsible for causing pain that sometimes lasts a lifetime. Inmates also see themselves in victim stories in other ways. They come to grips with the hurt they have caused themselves, their family and community. In addition, they are reminded of how they themselves have been hurt in life, perhaps as victims of childhood abuses/neglect/unhealthy environment, or by other harmful events they have experienced as children or adults.

Recognizing our shared humanity, empathy and compassion are awakened. This creates a safe space for inmates to share their own stories, including their crime of record. Afterward, members of the group silently reflect, ask questions, and share their thoughts. Through the honest discussion that follows, new insights open up and self-awareness deepens. More trusting relationships develop and growth happens beyond the classroom (in addition to homework), in the conversations inmates have with each other between sessions.

Each week, inmates have the opportunity to participate in opening and closing prayers. They complete homework for each session, including reading, reflecting, answering workbook questions, and journaling their experience. Inmates also write letters to victims and their own family members, who have also been victimized (these letters are not necessarily sent but are read aloud in small group). This content is shared and discussed and these group conversations build on one another and compliment the steps taken each week to restore peace.

Transformation is celebrated during a graduation ceremony, where participants share the impact of the program on their lives and fellowship with one another, volunteers, and guests.

Said one graduate: “I feel like a different person. I now understand how my crime affected others, how to be responsible and accountable. I learned how to trust people and open up.”