“It was around 10 o’clock on a January night, and I was getting ready for bed when I heard a knock on the door. My daughter answered, and an unfamiliar voice said: ‘Is this Jayden’s house?’ It was unusual for someone to come to the door at that time of night, but despite having a bit of a bad feeling about it, I thought nothing more of it.
“three young men overpowered me. One of them put a silver shotgun to my head, and the other two were holding knives”
“My kidneys have failed, and 45 minutes later when I was about to do my dialysis there was another knock at the door. I went to answer it, and through the window I could see a silhouette which I thought was my brother.
As I opened the door, expecting to see my brother, three young men overpowered me. One of them put a silver shotgun to my head, and the other two were holding knives. The man holding the gun said: ‘Don’t do anything stupid, don’t do anything mad - I will shoot you and I will kill you.’ For a second, these amazing Jackie Chan moves came into my mind and I thought I could overpower them. Then I realised my mind wasn’t working with my body.
“We were terrified. We gave them the car keys, and they left.”
“My younger daughters, who were 12 and 14 at the time, were upstairs. My wife and 17 year old daughter were downstairs with me. One of the young men put a six inch knife to my daughter’s side and started strangling her and slapping her around.
They were demanding jewellery and the keys for the car parked outside - a friend of mine had just bought a Range Rover Sport and I had borrowed it. We were terrified. We gave them the car keys, and they left.
“I couldn’t get over the fact that these people had come and violated my family in front of me, in our own home, and I hadn't been able to do anything.”
“The car was recovered after a couple of days, and the young people were arrested. We had to go to the police station to identify them, and it felt like we were reliving the whole thing. It was very upsetting.
“The incident had a big impact on all of us. My health wasn’t the best, and the shock of what had happened put me into a very negative spiral. I couldn’t get over the fact that these people had come and violated my family in front of me, in our own home, and I hadn't been able to do anything. I became very depressed, and my health deteriorated even further.
“I was approached by Lambeth Youth Offending Service (YOS), asking whether I wanted to meet my assailant - the young man who'd put the gun to my head - in a restorative justice conference.”
My wife became very anxious. If the girls were even 20 minutes late back from school she would start to panic. Eventually, we had to move out of our home - it no longer felt like our castle, our safe place.
“One of the young men was given a custodial sentence. After the robbery, there was a lot of anger in me, and there was a point where I really wanted to take revenge on the people who'd harmed my family. But when we found out that they were all under 18, my feelings began to change. I realised that they were just kids, and I started thinking about what might have caused them to go down that route.
“Shortly afterwards, I was approached by Lambeth Youth Offending Service (YOS), asking whether I wanted to meet my assailant - the young man who'd put the gun to my head - in a restorative justice conference.
“It felt like the right thing to do. I needed to get answers about what had happened that night… So I agreed.”
"Mark, the restorative justice facilitator from Lambeth YOS, came and talked to us about how the process would work. My wife was completely against it - she and my daughters didn't want me to have anything to do with Vinny*, the offender. But for me, it felt like the right thing to do. I needed to get answers about what had happened that night, and Mark reassured me that the process would be safe and that I could back out at any time. So I agreed.
“On the day of the meeting, I went alone, but Mark was there to support me, as well as some social workers and people from the YOS. It was awkward when I first went in the room but it felt right – it was something I had to do. At first, Vinny couldn't even look me in the eye – he was obviously very uncomfortable. But after he realised that I wasn't there to attack him in any way, he started to relax.
“He didn't make excuses, and I felt his remorse was very genuine. I also felt sad that he’d done something that would undoubtedly have huge repercussions on his future.”
"I began with a very straight question: 'Did you plan this?’. Vinny explained that they’d gone to rob another premises but failed, and their adrenaline was still flowing. They’d come up our road and seen the new car parked outside my house. They watched for a couple of hours, before knocking on our door - the rest I already knew.
"I needed to know whether he really would have shot me for a car - I couldn't comprehend how someone would be willing to take a life over something so unimportant. So I asked him straight: ‘When you said to me you’d shoot and kill me, did you mean it?’ At that point, Vinny could have lied and told me what he thought I wanted to hear, but he faced up to how far things could have gone that night. He said: ‘Yes, the gun was loaded and if you’d done anything I would have shot you.' He didn't make excuses, and I felt his remorse was very genuine. I also felt sad that he’d done something that would undoubtedly have huge repercussions on his future.
As he spoke, I could see that he was trying not to cry. He said: ‘I’m not a bad man – we just got carried away that night.’
There were a couple of things which had already had an impact on Vinny. The first was hearing my victim impact statement in court. In it, I described how my youngest daughter had been so frightened she'd had nightmares for weeks after. She was only a child, and that upset Vinny. The second was meeting me and realising that I'm disabled. He felt terrible about breaking into the house of a disabled person. As he spoke, I could see that he was trying not to cry. He said: ‘I’m not a bad man – we just got carried away that night.’
“Vinny apologised for what he'd put us through, and I believe he meant it. I told him I'd never forget what he'd done, but that day, I forgave him. At the end of the meeting, when he stood up, I asked him to come over and gave him a hug. I don’t think that kid had ever been hugged in his life - he clung on to me. I told him I was looking forward to seeing him at the other end and recommended he read some motivational books, get a job and get on the straight and narrow.
“I really needed that closure so I could move on - I didn’t need to be afraid anymore.”
“I felt a huge sense of relief after the meeting. It gave me a chance to look into the eyes of my assailant and, in a way, reclaim some power over him. I really needed that closure so I could move on - I didn’t need to be afraid anymore. From what I understand Vinny’s been keeping his nose clean, taking up academics and looking forward to coming out at the other end. I’d definitely recommend restorative justice to other people – it was very therapeutic and the result was good.”
*Vinny’s name has been changed.
The RJC would like to thank Lambeth YOS and Waseem for sharing his story with us.
© Restorative Justice Council 2015 – do not reproduce without permission.
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