Marina Cantacuzino: The long and winding road to forgiveness

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

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

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own