We live in vengeful times where perpetrators of crime face increasingly punitive sentences, without real consideration as to whether they prevent reoffending. Easy for me to note this illogicality, since neither I nor anyone close to me has been a victim of a serious crime. Margaret Mizen, by contrast, has not been spared. So it makes her commitment to understanding why those in our prisons offend all the more powerful.
In May 2008 her 16-year-old son, Jimmy, was fatally wounded in an unprovoked attack in his local bakery in south-east London. When she faced the media in the aftermath of a devastating loss, Margaret with her husband Barry caused us all to sit up when she expressed her concern for the parents of her son's murderer. "I can't get them out of my mind, because what's happened to Jimmy is the worst thing possible, but we've got such wonderful memories. They haven't got wonderful memories for their son… I can't, I don't, feel anger."
Neither Jimmy's killer, nor his family, have ever responded to these extraordinary words. Indeed, as Margaret writes in this intimate autobiography, at the murder trial they went out of their way to taunt and intimidate the Mizens.
But such treatment has not deterred Margaret, Barry or their large, loving family from working to bring something good out of the terrible blow. The couple visit prisons to talk to young offenders, tell Jimmy's story and listen to the experiences of those behind bars.They work tirelessly on projects that address the root causes of offending behaviour. The answer is not, she argues, new laws. Instead, we have all got to roll up our sleeves and contribute to a fairer, safer society.
Though her devout Catholicism has given Margaret Mizen remarkable strength in the face of adversity, hers is a story that shows forgiveness as something we can all work towards, a gruelling road, but ultimately more fruitful than anger and a desire for retribution.
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