Editor. Face To Face.
Questions raced through Mary's mind as she wandered through her burgled house.
"Would the burglar return for things not taken the first time? Why our house?"
She swayed between feelings of anger and nausea.
But within three weeks such feelings had dissipated and she had a "real sense of closure."
The offender had been found, had pleaded guilty, and had agreed to take part in a community-based restorative justice process as well as the official criminal justice system.
Mary (not her real name) had a chance to face the offender, ask questions, tell him how deeply his actions had affected her family, hear how remorseful he was and have some input into helping him move on and make positive changes in his life.
"We heard through his probation officer that he got a job two weeks later, and we've had the first repayments for the damage. It was good to see he really responded, and from what I could see learnt a lot."
The burglary was Mary's first personal experience of being a victim of a crime. She came home to find a window broken and a number of items taken, including a cellphone and an expensive digital camera she had borrowed from work.
"Probably the worst thing was that somebody else's property had gone."
Her husband was overseas at the time and her teenage children feared the unknown burglar would return.
After the offender was arrested, Mary was telephoned by a facilitator to see if she would consider a restorative justice meeting: "I knew the offender was young -- not a hardened criminal. There were so many questions. I hoped the conference would make a difference for him and us."
Mary's youngest son, who had been badly affected by the break-in, didn't want to attend, but "benefitted greatly by us coming back to tell him what went on."
At the conference it was "obvious the offender would have rather sunk through a hole in the ground than have been there. He looked nervous and embarrassed. He gave us the odd glance, but kept his head down mostly."
Mary says the facilitator was fantastic at guiding the conference and bringing it back on track at crucial points.
The offender spoke about being bored on the day and how he decided to break into a house.
Mary talked about how horrified she'd been at having the digital camera stolen. "I just swung between being mad and feeling sick as I rushed round the house looking for what else had gone. My husband talked about how helpless he felt not being at home and his fears for our safety."
The offender "kept on trying to look at me but his head was getting lower and lower as he began to understand what affect "a simple in and out job" had on me and my husband.
"I told him I was so sad to see a young guy getting involved in crime. I wanted him to pay us back for the damage done and return the camera and cellphone."
Mary then forgave him and said the "slate was clean, but I really hoped in the future the slate would tell a story of someone who had made a terrible mistake but had learnt from it and pushed on to do good things with his life."
When Mary said she forgave him, the young man -- with tear-filled eyes -- apologised.
"I told him that forgiveness didn't forgo justice and he still had to face the police system and pay us back."
What could have been an experience that left Mary frightened in her house for years turned out to be positive. The restorative justice process was "so good and really worthwhile."
Reprinted from Te Ara Whakatika: Newsletter of the court-referred restorative justice project
. July 2001. Issue 2.