When Viv and her husband were burgled, it came at a particularly difficult time. But one of her first thoughts was how committing the crime would affect the young offender's life. Viv explains how her determination to help this young man turn his life around has made such an impact.
A terrifying confrontation
"At around 2am I heard a noise, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I woke my husband and we both heard the snap of wood – we realised that there was somebody trying to get in. We called the police, who arrived very quickly with a helicopter and sniffer dogs for back up.
"We went downstairs when we knew that the police had arrived and for some reason it didn't occur to us that the burglar would still be in the house – we assumed that he would have run away. I think in the moment, we were just so shocked we didn't really think it through.
"My husband was in front of me as we walked into the kitchen, which was in total darkness. As we got to the kitchen door this figure dressed in black, wearing a balaclava, leapt out at us. He started to walk towards us saying, ‘I'm not gonna hurt you, I'm not gonna hurt you’, but he kept walking towards us and we kept having to go backwards. My husband said, ‘Don't come any closer, the police are here – the police are everywhere’, and it suddenly dawned on me that the burglar was actually really afraid. I'm not sure how I knew it – perhaps it was instinct – but I was sure I was right.
"I asked the burglar if he wanted to sit down, and he did. So I sat with him and when my husband thought I was safe, he went to get the police who were outside trying to find a way in. Afterwards, I realised I’d been talking to him while his balaclava was still on, but I didn’t notice at the time. All I could sense was his fear and I felt very sorry for him. I felt sad because I guessed that he was young and knew that to mess up this seriously could affect his whole life.
"The police came in and took his balaclava off. My guess had been right – he was young, just as I’d thought. He was arrested and taken away. We were left with damage to our window, but thankful that we were both OK and that we hadn't lost anything.
"I felt strongly that something could be done to change the path he was on."
"I wanted to talk to the boy but I knew that the police wouldn’t consider that until the court process was concluded. As soon as I knew it was over, I got in touch with the police and asked if I could speak to him. I felt strongly that he wasn't out of reach, and that something could possibly be done to change the path he was on.
"The next day the police called and offered us restorative justice, and we were put in touch with Dianne Gibson from Leeds Youth Offending Service. We agreed very quickly to the meeting, which took place very soon after.
The chance to make change
"When the meeting came round, I wanted to use the opportunity to get Jack*, the burglar, to think and see the seriousness of what he'd done. I didn't feel like I needed to speak to him for myself, it was more to stop him from going down a path that wasn’t easy to come back from. I wanted him to see that the people he'd burgled were real, and were affected by his actions.
"I started by asking Jack how he’d got into our house. We have a high wall and security gate so I really needed to know that we were going to be safe in the future. I also wanted to know how we'd been chosen – had Jack been watching us?
"Then I asked Jack if he’d ever been afraid. He nodded, quietly. I told him to keep that feeling in his mind, then I explained that that was how we had felt – we were terrified. I asked him to describe his house and where he slept and I said, ‘If you were in that bedroom there, with your mum and your sister close by, how would you feel if you heard someone breaking in? And if you went downstairs and someone jumped out at you all dressed in black with a balaclava on?’ He said he would be absolutely terrified. His eyes were glued to my face and he was white as a sheet – I knew I was getting through to him.
"I needed to make him realise what it had been like for us."
"It was then that I told him that the morning after he had broken in was my mother's funeral. He looked at me in utter horror. He was so upset – mortified by what he’d done. I wasn't trying to hurt him or to get him back, I just needed to make him realise what it had been like for us. He apologised very sincerely. I thanked him for that but he said, ‘No, don't thank me – I'm just so sorry.’
"We'd been asked to try to think of something Jack could do to make up for what he had done and he said that he would do anything, absolutely anything. I said that there was one thing that he could do – promise that he would never ever do anything like this again. He promised, but I wanted to make sure, so I asked him how he would make it happen. Life can be very tough and I needed to hear how he could make sure that he wouldn't turn to burglary again. He thought about that very carefully and realised he would have to make better choices.
"I found it very difficult to talk in the meeting. It brought up my feelings at the time of the burglary, which were so intertwined with the feelings of grief after my mother died. After the meeting my husband and I had to go for a drink to talk about how it made us feel. It had a stronger impact on me than I was expecting. Part of the reason it upset me was that it had such an impact on Jack, and the emotions of seeing that were harder than I expected.
"Restorative justice was the right way for us to help Jack see what he'd done and steer him in a better direction."
"Since the meeting we've been getting updates about Jack and how he’s been doing. Before, he was hanging around with a bad crowd. In a way, burgling our house was probably the best thing that could have happened to him, because he's had so much support from Dianne and all the social workers to help turn his life around. He's been helping in the kitchens of a local homeless charity and working to find a place and a role in life.
"Restorative justice was the right way for us to help Jack see what he’d done and to steer him in a better direction. I was glad we had the opportunity and we feel that it had a big impact on him, which wouldn’t have happened any other way."
*Jack’s name has been changed.
The RJC would like to thank Dianne Gibson from Leeds Youth Offending Service and Viv Hulland for sharing her story with us.
© Restorative Justice Council 2015 – do not reproduce without permission.
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