Photography by Brian Moody
In November 2008, Margaret Foxley interrupted a burglary in her own home. As she came through the backdoor, the burglar left through the front. He had taken a laptop full of family photos and jewellery commemorating her daughter’s 18th birthday. Eight months later her daughter was killed in a car accident. Later, inspired by the memory of her daughter, Margaret agreed to meet the burglar in a restorative justice conference in Preston Prison.
Before the burglary I was happy and healthy and experiencing true contentment in my life. My husband Paul and I adored our jobs; our children Oliver and Jessica were pursuing their career dreams. After the intrusion, however, I didn’t feel safe at home any longer and I felt a real sense of loss. I felt angry that the burglar thought he had the right to take things that meant nothing to him, purely for small financial gain. ‘Why me?’ I asked, ‘Why my home and family?’
Weeks passed and we discovered that besides the laptop and jewellery, other items and photos were missing. We consoled ourselves thinking we still had our memories and no one could take them away. Our frustration and the desire for revenge were ameliorated when a police officer rang on Christmas Eve to say they’d found the burglar and he was going to jail for five years.
We were told that because the police had a list of unsolved burglaries, they’d gone out with the offender to confirm the crimes that he’d committed. As they drove past our house, apparently he had admitted to robbing us. He wanted the police to tell us he didn’t mean us any harm and wished us a happy Christmas. We thought, ‘What a cheek!’
When we told our daughter Jessica he’d been caught, her immediate response was to feel sorry for him and wonder what kind of life he’d had. She pointed out that we didn’t know him or his background, so how could we judge? We reminded her that he had stolen precious items; we called her a pushover and a softie and told her what we’d like to do to him. However, what she said made a big impact.
Seven months later Jessica was killed in a car accident. From that moment on we felt even more intensely angry at the person who had taken these precious items away from us.
A week after the funeral we were asked by the police if we would help with their Restorative Justice work. The officer who contacted us was not aware of our circumstances at the time and said he would not have troubled us had he known about Jessica. But we are so pleased that he did, because what followed was so helpful.
We were asked if one of us would meet the burglar in Preston Prison for a RJ conference. Although I was still emotionally and physically fragile, I agreed. We remembered what Jessica had said the previous Christmas; we knew that she would have wanted to meet him.
I arrived at the prison feeling all kinds of emotions, wondering how I’d cope with meeting this monster I’d begun to hate. I didn’t know what to expect.
The burglar, Ian, began with several apologies. But there was no eye contact and I felt hugely frustrated. It was going nowhere. I wanted to know the reasons for his actions. I explained how he’d made me and my family feel; how I felt about my home. I got angry. I said, ‘Look at me! Look me in the eye!’ At that point he started to change. He looked up and we started to really talk to each other.
He said he never allowed himself to feel anything, as he knew this would prevent him doing what he did. ‘As long as I’m always in neutral I can carry on,’ he said. We began to share information about our families. When he said he’d sold the laptop for £38 I told him about Jessica’s death, and the fact that she had been willing to give him a second chance. I said, ‘This is why I’m here.’ He listened quietly; it wasn’t until later in the conversation that he told me he could understand a bit about my loss. He said his son had committed suicide at 14 in a young offender’s institute. Our conversation lasted two hours.
I left that prison feeling that I’d really changed. I could breathe again. I felt safe, I felt secure. I understood that this person wasn’t a monster. He was in his mid-forties with grownup children and a mum who came to visit him.
I’ve met with him again since then. He came and spoke at a prison chaplains’ conference with me. He walked into the room and he was like a new man. He’d put on weight, he held his head high and looked great. I was so shocked. I just went up to him and we gave each other such a big hug and he was beaming. His eyes were sparkling; there was none of the shuffling with his head down, and he spoke to those chaplains so easily. He spoke about the whole Restorative Justice experience; how I’d made him think, and how he’d started to feel things again. He said, ‘Look, I know it sounds corny, but when I get out of here I will not re-offend.’
It’s as simple as that. Resentment and revenge just make you ill. You’re just being cruel to yourself. It makes things worse.
I believe that all of this has come out of losing Jessica. But I also feel we haven’t lost her – because she is spurring me on to do things I would never have done. I am working with the police setting up a victims’ panel. It’s very exciting and rewarding. My son says that although Jessica isn’t with us in person, she’s still all around us.