Photo by Brian Moody

Susie Lomax was living in Wellington, New Zealand in the mid 1990s, when two young men broke into her car. Following the incident, a Family Group Conference was set up between her and one of those responsible. For the young man it was a chance to put his past behind him, for Susie Lomax it was another stage in her journey of personal growth.

The incident was small in a way but also scary. When I saw these two guys from the upstairs window trying to get into my car, I called the police who told me to go outside and see what was happening. So there I was, hiding in the bushes in my dressing gown, on this freezing cold night, giving the police as much information as I could. Within minutes they arrived and immediately one of the lads ran off up the hill. But the other one just sat there, frozen to the spot. Later, I heard the police dogs get hold of the one up the hill. He must have been bitten hard because the sound of his screaming was hideous. I thought to myself, ‘is this really necessary?’

For me the burglary was more of an inconvenience than anything else. The most unpleasant part was on the first day of the court case when the family of the guy who’d run away were outside the court trying to intimidate me not to give evidence. But quite separate to the court case, I was invited to take part in a Family Group Conference with the boy who’d been rooted to the spot, and his grandfather. Without hesitation I agreed although some people couldn’t understand it.  Their attitude was, ‘Why would you want to give up your time to help someone like that when you’re not getting paid?’

This was in the very early days of family conferencing and when I arrived there wasn’t even a facilitator there!  I was alone with this guy and his grandfather who clearly thought it was extraordinary that I wasn’t yelling at his grandson.   I told them I was going through a divorce and it was the first time I’d lived alone so the incident had made me feel vulnerable.  At this the boy started to say ‘I’m sorry’ over and over again.  When I asked him why he’d done it, he told me he wanted to be a surfer so I started encouraging him.  I remember the look on his grandfather’s face – it was as if to say ‘we come from different worlds yet you’re encouraging my grandson’.

I know the meeting was very helpful for them both because after that I received several letters from the boy telling me how he’d gone back to school and started surfing again.

The world teaches you to be afraid of certain people; if something bad happens to get angry and take revenge.  But the more I listened and looked at the boy’s circumstances, the more my life expanded instead of shutting down.  It gave me courage.

It also made me more assertive and helped me when, not long after that, I was stalked by a French Israeli ex-military guy who I met in a bar.  He started watching me with binoculars and would ring in the middle of the night.  The police advised me to hide away at home but living in fear behind closed doors was no way to live.  So instead I found out where this man worked, got his phone number and whenever he called me, I’d immediately ring him back and then hang up.  When he realised I wasn’t going to be that powerless victim he stopped.

I was brought up in a very religious household and so forgiveness for me has been there since childhood but I’ve found that in order to forgive someone you have to pass a judgement on them in the first place. And I question that.

For that young man, it wasn’t a matter of me forgiving him. I just saw him as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve had much harder things to forgive. For instance, my mother died when I was 14 and my father couldn’t cope and shut me out after that for many years. That’s been something that over the years my father and I have battled with. It has had a huge impact on me and at one time I was incredibly angry. But I’ve chosen to find a way to love him regardless. If I couldn’t do that I’d be closing down a part of myself.