28th October 2020

Jacob Dunne on vulnerability and facing the true impact of his crime through meeting the mother of the man he killed

Marina Cantacuzino talks to Jacob Dunne who aged 18 was convicted of manslaughter for killing a man with a single punch. This episode tells the story of Jacob’s gradual rehabilitation and the vital role played by the parents of the man he killed – James Hodgkinson. In episode 3 Marina talks to James’ mother – Joan Scourfield.

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Show Notes

Jacob Dunne is an educator facilitating important conversation around criminal justice. In 2020 he helped create a BBC Radio 4 series The Punch based on his own life story and the transformative effect of Restorative Justice. He is a Longford scholar and received a first class honours in Criminology in 2019. He is currently writing his first book and keen to continue the conversation about crime, punishment and rehabilitation.

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Marina: Welcome to the F Word Podcast – a podcast series which examines, excavates, unpicks and reframes Forgiveness through the lives of others. I am Marina Cantacuzino, a journalist from London, Founder of The Forgiveness Project Charity and I’ve built my career investigating how those who face the most complex and devastating things in life find a way through. I will be talking fortnightly to a guest who has experienced something very difficult or traumatic in their life but who rather than respond with hate or bitterness has embraced or at the very least considered forgiveness as a response to pain.

So, in this episode my guest is Jacob Dunne. If you heard our previous F Word Podcast you will know that I was talking to Joan Scourfield who I actually met through Jacob. Jacob’s connection to Joan is uncomfortable, difficult but it is also fundamentally life affirming because they have somehow formed a friendship despite the fact that in 2011 in the City of Nottingham, Jacob in a moment of mad rage threw a punch at Joan’s son, James, which left James in a coma and nine days later was the cause of his death.

They met when Joan with her then husband, David, took part in Restorative Justice, a little after Jacob had come out of prison. Restorative Justice is a dialogue process between victim and offender.

Now, when I talked to Joan she told me about how in the end she had been able to let go of bitterness and resentment largely through witnessing how Jacob had transformed his life. So, having interviewed Joan the obvious next step in the Podcast was to talk to Jacob.

So, welcome Jacob.

Jacob: Thank you, Marina.

Marina: I should say that Jacob is one of The Forgiveness Projects storytellers and he also shares his story and facilitates on The Forgiveness Project’s Restore Prison Programme. You have done that for how many years?

Jacob: Three years.

Marina: So I thought maybe we could just start with the whole thing of sharing your story. You have done it frequently. You have done it for us. You have done it for others. You have almost become a sort of “poster boy” for rehabilitation. Maybe talk a little bit about sharing your story and the importance of that. Is it ever a burden?

Jacob: Well, up until the age of 21 I don’t think I had ever really known I had a story. I don’t think I really appreciated how much the past impacts the present, and until I was contacted by Joan and David, I didn’t even realise that the way I had been living my life had affected so many people in so many ways.

And, having Joan have the courage to put me under the spotlight and ask me why I did what I did and how I had become the person I had become, for the first time made me start to look at my past and start to care about it and so I did that and I was filled with a lot of guilt and shame as to the impact and harm I had on others.

That was a really pivotal moment. It was like a period of enlightenment. All of a sudden I was asking myself meaningful questions like how have I become the way I have. Where did this all go wrong? There is a quote that we share often in The Forgiveness Project in The Restore Programme in prisons which is, I can’t quite remember exactly but “our greatest burden is our untold stories” and that really resonates with a lot of people in prison and with myself.

Marina: I might have thought, others might have thought, aren’t you just going back to that time by keeping telling your story? Wouldn’t it be easier not to do that, to walk away, to try to forget, to try and reform and try and have a completely new life? But by keep on telling your story you are sort of inextricably linked to your past. Are you saying that is actually a really valuable thing?

Jacob: Yes. I think you have of course to take great care when doing it. When revisiting traumatic periods in your life or just uncomfortable memories to make sure that you have people around you whether it is at home or in the office or whether it is just knowing how much to delve into it. But I would say that our past definitely carries itself with us, whether we like it or not and it manifests itself in ways that you wouldn’t think possible.

So, with myself when I used to block things out I became more and more aggressive, more and more angry and then in more recent times I have become more and more depressed as I have channelled my anger inwards and then it manifests itself into addiction and all sorts of different traits . And so, looking at it in a safe space really helps take back the pain I guess and start to be able to write your own narrative. Because, you can continue to write your own narrative, the present and the future but without really understanding the past you’re writing the rest of your book with a faulty pen. I guess that is the best way of describing it.

Marina: That makes perfect sense and actually really reminds me of the early hours of this morning when I couldn’t sleep and got up I was looking at Madeleine Black interview with Jeremy Vine.

Now Madeleine Black I think has worked on Restore with you and her story is about how at fourteen she was gang-raped and suffered appallingly on that day and for years afterwards in the way that you are describing. But he was really confronting her and saying why do you want to keep telling your story? You don’t have to. Why do you want to do this?

And, she said this thing, it really resonated with me and it may with you. She said, “The way in was really my way out. I had to face everything that was done to me” So I think similarly with you, you had to face everything that you had done and your way in was your way out.

Jacob: Yes, and I feel extremely grateful because my way in was provocated by the people I had harmed the most which was the way you least expect your opportunity to come from.

Marina: And why do you think this is? Perhaps this is a safe way in to talking about the power of Restorative Justice, meeting someone face to face. Although, I know with you, you had what some people describe as shuttle Restorative Justice, talking through mediators before you actually met.

Jacob: Yes, we had two and a half years of speaking through letters and mediators before we felt comfortable in meeting each other face to face.

Marina: Joan told me when I talked to her for the FWord Podcast. She said Remedi approached you and she was hoping you would say “yes”.

Now Remedi is one of the UK’s leading Restorative Justice Services offering victims of crime the opportunity to engage in a restorative intervention, whether face to face or through a mediator.

Jacob: It was just such a shock for me to think that David and Joan would be the ones to contact me and not necessarily want me to do well at that point, but just want to ask me the questions that they had.

Marina: What were their main questions?

Jacob: Their main questions were along the lines of why I did what I did and whether I had any background in contact sports or boxing or anything like that.

Marina: They already knew at that point that you hadn’t set out that day to kill anyone but it was just a violent act that went terribly wrong.

Jacob: And yes just more along the lines, you know, what happened in the lead up to it. Was there a girl that I was speaking to or any other type of common reason for guys arguing on nights out? Unfortunately we tend to get into a lot of arguments and it was all those kind of general questions that they had, all the different pieces to the puzzle that they needed and maybe not all those questions were really significant but for them piecing everything together was something that they really needed.

And just that human contact kind of got rid of my aggression. Because I thought bad about what I did, I didn’t know how to channel that so I just hid it behind a façade of anger and anti-social behaviour. And, them contacting me kind of just subtlety went underneath the façade that I had and got right to the heart of myself and kind of dispelled everything.

It made it a lot more easier for me to just think you know what I am not sure if this process is going to help me, but these people clearly have questions that need answering and the least I can do is try and help them with that and then try to move on with my life.

Marina: Did you think at that point when you were answering their questions to a mediator and the mediator was taking it back to Joan and David, David is Joan’s ex-husband, father of James, and did you actually think that’s enough. I’ve got no desire to meet these people or did you always think at the end of the day it would be really nice to meet face to face?

Jacob: I always felt I would do as much as I could to help them and if that meant meeting them face to face one day then maybe I will do that and that is where I was coming at it from. I let them continue to lead the conversation.

Marina: And how did that first meeting go?

Jacob: The first meeting was unbelievable. It felt like twenty minutes had passed and when I came out of there it was more like an hour and a half.

Marina: Were they angry? Did they show anger?

Jacob: I think because we had spoken for two and a half years there wasn’t as much anger there but I know that they wanted to be able to go back, to be able to tell me the impact, the true impact of my crime. Talking to me about James’ personality, what kind of person he was, the values he had, the friendships he had, making him a real person.

Marina: What they had lost.

Jacob: What they had lost, yes. What it was like for them having to sit by their son’s life support machine and the funeral and everything like that.

Marina: And hearing it from them must have been a whole different experience to hearing it through a mediator or in a written letter.

Jacob: Yes, it was very hard to hear. Usually when we are faced with uncomfortable truths our initial response to that is to kind of get out of there and run away or try to deflect whatever is coming our way back onto whoever it is but I wasn’t in a space where I could do any of that. I had listened for two and a half years. I was listening here again. Doing my best to make something out of this horrific situation.

But that wasn’t all they wanted to do. They wanted to get that out of the way early on in the conversation and then we moved on to what I had been doing in terms of my education, where my hopes were going forward. By the end of the conversation it felt like David and Joan were giving me permission to not beat myself up about it anymore, even though I still do. But that was a really nice thing to leave it on.

Marina: And since then you have been doing work with Joan, haven’t you?

Jacob: Yes. Not so much anymore. We speak when we can at schools or at keynote events….

Marina: About Restorative Justice and the One Punch Campaign…

Jacob: Yes, about Restorative Justice and the One Punch Campaign and just how we have managed to deal with our problems in a way that trying not to cause further harm to anybody else.

And just to explain to listeners The One Punch campaign is about educating people how just a single punch can actually result in more than a scratch and can actually kill someone if they fall and hit their head or if you hit it in the wrong place.

Jacob: Exactly. It is so easily done and the statistics are just increasing more and more which is really sad.

Marina: I just want to go back to the whole thing of Restorative Justice. Shad Ali I think he said something wonderful about it because meeting his attacker was incredibly healing for him and helped him really move forward in his life.

So I just want to introduce you to someone called Shad Ali, who when he was alive, worked a lot for The Forgiveness Project. Shad had been a victim of a brutal sustained attack in Nottingham and then years later came face to face with his offender in a Restorative Justice meeting in prison. Very sadly Shad died after a short illness but I am really grateful to him because sometime before that he introduced me to Jacob. He really was like a mentor to Jacob and one of the key people to help him get back on his feet.

Shad Ali said Restorative Justice introduced an element of humanity into a situation which had de-humanised both the attacker and myself. So, in a way it humanises crime, doesn’t it? It puts a face to the mindless thug and also really allows victims to express their pain to the person who has caused it.

Jacob: Exactly, which for many victims of crime they don’t have the opportunity to through the normal criminal justice process. Yes, we are making movement towards the Victim’s Code, Restorative Justice being included in the Victim’s Code. There are efforts now towards supporting victims more throughout the criminal justice process and making Restorative Justice accessible to everybody because of exactly that, as you say, giving them a voice and being able to really and truly explain the impact that that crime has had on them.

When you say it like that it sounds like it should just be common sense because for me, as well from the offender’s point of view, you think the offender is in prison they should know what they have done and they should be able to take responsibility and move on. But for me when I was in prison I think I was only ever asked by one person have you ever thought of the parents of the man you punched and I said “No” and I said it in a selfish way as well I thought no I don’t want to because those thoughts are too hard for me to deal with so it is easy for me to block it away and try not to think about it.

And, on the flipside as well as an offender who has caused harm to somebody else, how can I ever truly comprehend the harm that I have caused to someone else without them telling me themselves. So, again, I was grateful that they then took that opportunity to contact me and start that process where I could then understand and I could then make the changes that I needed to make.

Marina: Joan also said to me one of the things that really surprised her, shocked her, was that when you were in prison you told her you had felt the victim. When you explain it and you have explained it to me before it is perfectly understandable but just saying it like that people will be thinking “What?” Can you unpack that a bit?

Jacob: I think, I definitely felt like I was a victim. Again, because I had no idea of the harm I had on the people I had harmed and so you are kind of left I guess to suffer with the only thing that you do understand which is your own pain and you just block that away and try not to acknowledge that. So, it is just a very lonely place to suffer in with no real way to express yourself or to understand how you are feeling.

On top of that incarceration is never nice. It has a massive ripple effect in terms of I was living with my mum at the time because I had got arrested for a violent offence she lost the house which was the home of my little brother. I just felt like my life had fallen apart and …

Marina: And your friends abandoned you.

Jacob: …and my friends abandoned me and they told the police that it was me who did it so I was just a really confused young man with no sense of direction or purpose and felt I was the victim of all this.

Marina: How old were you again?

Jacob: I was nineteen.

Marina: I just want to go back a little bit to what you were saying before about Joan and David kind of gave you permission to lead your life the way you wanted to. They would not be breathing down your neck and demanding anything of you and that how liberating in a way that was

Now, a couple of years ago you gave an interview to a theatre director who made a play called “The Listening Room” which was a brilliant concept of verbatim theatre where she interviewed several victims, perpetrators and offenders who had taken part in Restorative Justice and told their stories through actors and there was one where you were the interviewee at the time and there was one line in that play which really resonated with me.

I just wrote it down. And this is what you must have said because this is what the actor spoke. Your character said, “I am afraid to speak to people when I am feeling down because they might think, Oh, this isn’t the Jacob that we thought. Maybe we should be a bit more wary around him now that he is expressing feelings of anxiety or depression or feeling sad or whatever”.

Jacob: I actually remember exactly where I was when I said that. I had been in that place for about four years of not quite developing relationships with people who I feel comfortable being vulnerable to.

Shad Ali who was a Forgiveness Project storyteller, who coincidentally he was from Nottingham as well, who was at a meeting of telling crime stories. He was a massive support for me on my journey and someone that I felt comfortable opening up about and saying you know what I am doing, all these amazing things and rebuilding my life. I have got my GCSE’s or whatever stage it was, or saying I don’t really feel very well at the minute, or I am feeling depressed or just acknowledging any hard emotions or feelings and constantly having to put on a brave face.

Because I was trying to market myself I guess as someone who was trustworthy, someone that you could employ, someone that you could give a chance to because I felt that I had wasted all my teenage years. I had dropped out of school. I was playing catch up and had this massive mistake that I made that was looming over me and I didn’t therefore want to acknowledge any of the negative side of things.

I applied to do social work at university because I wanted to become a social worker initially and I was told that I couldn’t be a social worker because of my offence and I struggled to get access to placements. And, then I tried to volunteer for my local youth offending team at one point and they told me that I needed to do more therapy. There is a culture of people who wanted me to do well but didn’t actually want to give me an opportunity.

Marina: I guess you could say The Forgiveness Project gave Jacob an opportunity by encouraging him to share his story through our prison programme and in the schools. I remember the first time I heard him speak publicly. You could hear a pin drop. He was extremely tentative, very nervous but I absolutely know that those in the room were given an invaluable insight into understanding why damaged people can cause such damage to others.

Anyway, I then went on to discuss with Jacob the whole concept of restorative narratives, stories which act as a force for good in the world by focusing on empathy and community and showing how people can mend broken hearts and repair fractured communities.

I always talk about compassionate storytelling and restorative narratives because there are so many stories out there about hate, division and insularity but The Forgiveness Project chooses to focus on stories about compassion, empathy, healing and forgiveness. Yours and Joan’s stories together is a restorative narrative but does that ring true with you or does it feel a bit restricted because I was thinking sometimes your story might feel one of anger or pain or it might not feel very restorative?.

Jacob: Exactly. I think our stories are fluid and ever changing. At one point in the early years of me sharing my story it was quite restrictive. It was quite safe.

Marina: Do you mean it was a beginning, a middle and an end, change in the middle and rehabilitation at the end and the bad thing at the beginning?

Jacob: Yes, the bad thing at the beginning. The story that I want other people to believe, I guess and to hear, whereas in prison my story I told was the story I wanted my fellow prisoners to believe and to hear and that would be one where I highlighted the fact I was naïve, unlucky, the fact that one punch did what it did and selling the narrative that my friends snitched on me. I knew it was always going to get me instant condemnation from my fellow prisoners to justify it. My feelings of hatred and anger that was my safe space. That is where I felt safe. That was where I felt comfortable within my story but I knew that that wasn’t sustainable but it was sustainable in prison.

So, when I got out of prison my story then changed again when telling David and Joan. It was then about rehabilitation, changing and that was authentic because that’s what I was doing, that’s where I was. But the thing to bear in mind when we are sharing our stories is that are we sharing our stories for others or are we sharing our stories for us?

Finding that balance is important because sometimes we are telling people what we think they want to hear and it is quite authentic but there is a little bit of grey area in there where maybe you are exaggerating a little bit or you are maybe going through the motions.

But, what we know is that our stories change, our feeling change and as I have become a dad that has brought up new feelings, made me think about how would I react if that had happened to my son. It gives me maybe a little more connection, I guess, now that I have become a father with David and Joan because now I actually know what it is like to be a parent and so it is important not to put out narratives in nice, little packaged boxes because you don’t want to beat yourself up when it changes.

Marina: Such a good point and I have seen people come unstuck sometimes when they feel they have failed because they have said something in the past like I am over that or I don’t feel angry about that anymore and then something triggers, something happens and of course it comes back again, that’s real. I thing why restorative narratives do focus on recovery and mending broken hearts and about reconciliation and change and hope, the reality of it is that things change and actually, I think that is what people want to hear. I do actually think people are inspired by the truth, the reality and people trying.

Jacob: Yes, that is what I would say in my narratives now. I have tried my best.

Marina: Yes, I think that is great. We haven’t spoken, Jacob, about forgiveness. Where does it come into your story? I asked Joan and I don’t know when you are together whether it comes up, but I did ask her and she says, yes, she does forgive you now. It wasn’t something that came easily and it was something very natural that came over time because she sees where you are now and she has a connection with you. Do you forgive yourself?

Jacob: Some days I do think I have forgiven myself. There was a period in time when I forgave myself but I never shared that because that was something that was deeply personal to me. I didn’t think other people needed to know because as you say, we speak something out then maybe you are held accountable for it later on down the line and sometimes it can be a burden saying it out loud because then maybe you have to make your way in a slightly different way going forward.

So, right now, I am not sure if I have forgiven myself but I put caring for myself instead, I guess, as a greater priority. Making sure I take care of myself is the best way for me to eventually forgive myself.

Marina: Well, that makes very good sense. When you talk in a Restore Prison Programme which The Forgiveness Project has run for over ten years, are you as honest as that with the guys in there? I would have thought it was really important to be. It might be impossible not to be as they would see right through you.

Jacob: Yes, they would see right through me and yes, it is extremely important just to be honest. My role in Restore, I guess, is to model the way I have approached tackling my issues. It is so hard to be vulnerable and that, perhaps is the most important role of us as facilitators in that environment is to model being vulnerable to look at our stories and to be honest.

Marina: You know, Jacob, I think that is a brilliant ending because you have been vulnerable with me and I am really grateful for that and you have talked so interestingly about the pitfalls of sharing these stories. Since that is the currency that The Forgiveness Project works in it is really important for us to learn from this and to support our storytellers and to understand the nature of continually sharing your stories, both to help others and to help yourself. And to look at that in a forensically scrupulous way really so that we can support our storytellers and our storytellers can tell their stories in a safe environment and be supported.

Jacob: I totally agree.

Marina: So, Jacob, thank you so much for talking to us today on the FWord Podcast.

Jacob: Thank you so much for having me.

Marina: Thank you for listening to the F Word Podcast. To dig a bit deeper around some of the themes we have talked about do check out the show notes by going to theforgivenessproject.com/fwordpodcast. From there you can also explore The Forgiveness Project website which over the years has collected and shared many more stories of how people have transformed the darkest of situations.

I also want to invite you to join the F Word Podcast Facebook Group especially if you have more to discuss or share. Again, to find the link go to theforgivenessproject.com/fwordpodcast and finally, all these podcasts have grown out of years of trying to shift the narrative of our time away from one of hate and division towards empathy and understanding.

So, if you have enjoyed this podcast please do consider donating even just the smallest amount to help us to continue our wok. All details of how to do this again are on the show notes page of our website.

But, most of all, I hope you will join me again.

Next time on the F Word Podcast I will be talking to Zac Ebrahim. A story about prejudice, extremism and what happens when your father attempts to blow up the World Trade Centre. I hope you will join us then.

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