Photo by Carrie Davenport

In 2007 Gwen Gibson’s daughter had £165 stolen from the ballet school she was running in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. Soon after a young boy (15) was caught and charged.

When The Youth Justice Agency asked my daughter to meet up with the boy who had stolen from her at a Restorative Justice (RJ) conference, she refused as she was too traumatised. However, she asked me if I would take her place as she felt it would be a good thing if the boy was told about the consequences of his actions.

The male members of our family – my husband, sons and son-in-law – had no sympathy with him at all. As far as they were concerned he had committed a crime, been caught and deserved to be punished. I was very angry too, as I felt my daughter had worked really hard to run her own business and didn’t deserve this.

The boy’s Care Manager, Probation Officer, and a member of the Police force also attended the conference, which was facilitated by the Youth Justice Agency. I was a little apprehensive as I thought I was going to meet a hoodlum, but when I saw him I was really surprised – he wasn’t like that at all. He looked really scared. I was glad to have the chance to explain the effects of his crime on my daughter and on myself as her mother, but as I looked at this young boy I was filled with compassion. He had known little love or encouragement from his family.

I asked him how he thought my daughter would pay her bills if he stole her money. At one stage I got quite cross with him and asked, “Do you understand what I’m saying, are you listening?” He replied yes, he understood, and repeated practically word for word what I had told him.

Then the boy said to me that he hadn’t thought about the effects of what he had done, and he was very sorry to upset my daughter. He WAS ashamed, and it made him realise he had put my daughter through a very unpleasant ordeal and deserved to be put through the ordeal of this conference. So I told him he could continue the way he was going, or he could change his lifestyle and have a good life.

Shortly after that I was saddened to hear he had offended again – this time very seriously. He had once again been rejected by his mother and reacted by trashing a local car show room, to the cost of £20,000. My thought was – what will he do next? This must stop.

It was coming up to Christmas and I sent him a Christmas card just to say that I was sorry he was in trouble again, that he must stop offending and that I would like him to have a happy and worthwhile life.

I kept in touch with the Agency to see how he was and wrote again after a few months to say I was pleased to hear he hadn’t been in any further trouble and to encourage him for the future. I continued to send cards and letters periodically, emphasising that he could have a good life, it was up to him.

One day the Agency phoned to say that the boy had saved up to repay the money he had stolen from my daughter, working to clean windows in the Care Home (he was in yet another one) and from his allowance. I was asked would I like to meet up with him again to receive the payment personally. Apparently he had kept all my cards and letters. I felt he should know how much I appreciated his efforts and that he should be rewarded for doing the right thing. So I bought him a Sports Watch. I went along with the Youth Justice Agency representative to the Care Home. He handed over the payment and said he was sorry for the trouble it had caused my daughter. I thanked him for his efforts in replacing the money and for doing the right thing. Then I gave him the watch.

I will never forget the look on his face as he opened that present. I told him “this represents TIME – I don’t want you to do any more TIME in custody. You have all the TIME in the world to have a good life, just like my sons”. He said he wanted to start again, get a job and have that good life. He knew it was up to him.

The Restorative Justice conference taught me a lot. I learned that I should not be so judgemental, when I heard of the boy’s background and how his unhappy home life had affected him. And for him, he was able to see that victims are people and how his crime had affected my whole family.

I think of him often and hope that he has found a better way of life – he certainly changed my life and I hope I have helped to change his.