Marina Cantacuzino: The long and winding road to forgiveness

Restorative justice turns the system on its head and gives everyone a voice

Share
Related Topics

When Margaret Mizen spoke last week of feeling no anger for her son's killer and pity for his family, she followed a growing and impressive line of bereaved mothers who have spoken in a spirit of understanding and compassion in the wake of their children's senseless murders – Dee Walker and Marie Fatayi-Williams to name but two.

And yet even though there is universal respect for these mothers' dignified response, public opinion is more polarised. The more usual response from someone who has lost a loved one is that of Helen Newlove, who in February this year spoke of bringing back the gallows at the trial of three youths for the murder of her husband Gary.

I have always been especially interested in those people – like Margaret Mizen, whose son Jimmy was stabbed to death in a south London baker's shop 10 days ago – who somehow go against the grain, and try to make meaning out of a meaningless atrocity by not talking of revenge or hatred.

It was for this reason that in 2004 I founded The Forgiveness Project, an organisation that examines and explores forgiveness and restorative justice through real people's narratives. When the organisation launched the exhibition The F Word: Images of Forgiveness, Esther Baker, who runs Synergy Theatre (an organisation which works through theatre with offenders and ex-offenders towards resettlement), was so moved by the stories that together we embarked on raising funds to get a play commissioned that looked at forgiveness in the aftermath of brutality.

The Long Road, by Shelagh Stephenson, which opened last night at London's Soho Theatre, is the result of a four-year process which involved talking to both victims and offenders and examining the process of restorative justice – the meeting of victim and offender where the central concern is not retribution or punishment but the redressing of balances through acknowledgement, apology and reparation.

The play is timely in that it sadly foreshadows Margaret Mizen's words. The mother in The Long Road, in an attempt to deal with the tragedy of her son's murder, tries to meet his killer, a young teenage girl. The play examines the effects that the mother's need to understand and ultimately to forgive has on the rest of the family.

I have come to believe passionately in restorative justice, having worked with offenders in several UK prisons and met a number of victims who have had face-to-face meetings with the person who has harmed them. In today's criminal justice setting, victims have very limited opportunity to say how they are affected by the crimes that have shaken and undermined their lives. They usually feel powerless watching lawyers and police plea-bargaining and trading information for reduced sentences. Restorative justice turns the system on its head, and gives everyone a voice, putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system.

Take the case of Peter Woolf and Will Riley. Woolf, a former career criminal turned author, whose autobiography The Damage Done was published last week, speaks movingly about how he didn't understand that he had victims such as Riley – whose house he burgled – until a restorative justice conference brought the two men together. The meeting had such a profound impact on Woolf that he has not offended since. Equally, Riley was so impressed by the process of restoration he had undergone that he was inspired to form a group called Why Me?, an organisation calling for the right for all victims to take part in restorative justice.

I have worked with Peter Woolf in London prisons, and the power of his story surpasses any behaviour management intervention that I've seen or been involved in. For the most part, prison doesn't work because punishment – as necessary as it may be – is not usually effective in getting people to take responsibility for their behaviour. Hence the high numbers reoffending. For most offenders to take responsibility for their actions, they need to consider how their behaviour affected people and what might be done to repair the harm it caused. This is what restorative justice is all about.

The Long Road is a play about forgiveness – a word that everyone has an opinion about, which is what makes the play so effective and so provocative. For most people, forgiveness signifies something easy, glib and weak – but in my opinion that is entirely wrong. Forgiveness is difficult, painful, and costly – but also potentially transformative.

'The Long Road' is in repertory at the Soho Theatre, London W1 until 5 June

www.forgivenessproject.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee