Amanda (the VLO) first offered a visit to Paula, in 2002, to give her information about Lawrence, who had pleaded guilty to murdering her son, Carl. Paula declined this offer, as she felt it was too soon after his death and she was also waiting for the outcome of the trial of two co-defendants, who had pleaded not guilty. This trial took another year to come about and the co-defendants were acquitted.
Amanda contacted Paula again after the trial and they met in early 2003. Paula was very angry at the criminal justice system for what she perceived as a miscarriage of justice in the case of the two co-defendants. She was glad that Lawrence had pleaded guilty although she wondered why. She was consumed by thoughts of conspiracy theories about the men who she thought had ‘got away’ with the murder of her son and tortured herself with thoughts of her son’s last hours.
At this first meeting, Paula expressed a wish to know more about what happened on the night her son died. She had many questions to which she needed answers if she was to be able to begin to rebuild her life. After much discussion with Paula about what restorative justice could offer, and after putting forward all the pros and cons of the process, Paula decided that she would like to meet Lawrence. Paula felt she would prefer the meeting to take place sooner rather than later, even if this meant the meeting being held in a prison. Paula was also aware that Lawrence would have to agree to take part.
After meeting with both Paula and Lawrence, Amanda realised that they were the ones who would take this process forward, so determined were they to see this through. Initial discussions with the prison were very encouraging and Amanda had a good deal of support from the prison probation officer and prison lifer manager. The prison was keen to see this meeting take place and was very aware of the sensitivities for both Lawrence and Paula.
Over the course of the next 12 months, Amanda had 12 meetings with Paula or Lawrence. All the meetings with Lawrence took place in the prison and Amanda was given as much access to Lawrence as she needed. He was also offered support in between these visits, if he needed it. Amanda met Paula at her home where, over the next year, she spoke of the deep sense of the loss of her son.
Paula wrote a list of the questions she wished to ask Lawrence and also wrote a very moving, powerful piece about what she had suffered, from the moment she knew her son had died to the present. She wanted Lawrence to see this and he was very affected by it. At all times, it was important to both Paula and Lawrence that each knew what the other was thinking and what they wanted. Lawrence was consumed by guilt and wanted only what Paula wanted. For her part, Paula was very thoughtful towards Lawrence, not wishing to cause him pain needlessly. Much information passed between the two parties in this way during those months.
Much thought was given by all concerned to where and when the meeting would take place. Both Paula and Lawrence were understandably anxious but their resolve and commitment to a face-to-face meeting never wavered. The prison offered a variety of settings for the meeting, and eventually it was agreed that the probation department offices would be most suitable. A room was organised and planned for the meeting.
Paula and Lawrence finally met each other in late September 2004, some 12 months after Paula made her request. After such a long time and such hard work in the early stages, the meeting itself was almost an anti-climax for all concerned. The meeting lasted about 40 minutes and both Paula and Lawrence were exhausted afterwards, as was Amanda.
Both Paula and Lawrence wrote down their thoughts and feelings about the meeting.
“My reason for doing this was because I wanted to give something back. I was told that the victim’s mother more or less was stuck in one place and that made me feel worse than I already did. Then I heard how she wanted to meet me – at first I couldn’t believe that this was true. I couldn’t understand why she wanted to meet the person responsible for the death of her son. But I felt a sense of responsibility to her and if meeting her could help her move on, then that is what I would do. All the meetings I had preparing with the VLO helped me out – it was important to prepare myself as much as possible. Because this was the biggest thing I ever did in my life.
The day of the meeting arrived and I never thought about calling it off, but I did think – what on earth was I doing? The meeting went well, very good. I listened to what the victim’s mother had to say. It was what I expected but I thought it would be her making me feel bad and small but she was more concerned with me knowing the effect of what my actions have done, and was interested in what I do in the future and not to make her son’s life be in vain. She was very understanding and made me feel more comfortable. To me it felt like a big guilt trip or weight has been lifted off me.”
“I met Lawrence face-to-face for the first time on September 29th 2004. I had last seen him at the trial in December 2002, mainly the back of his head. When I met Amanda, the VLO, we spoke about Carl’s death, the police involvement and questions four years on that I still had no answers to. She told me that she could arrange for me to meet with Lawrence so that I could get answers to these questions and she arranged a series of meetings with me and she met separately with Lawrence.
Before the meeting I visited the prison with Amanda and I was shown the room where the meeting would take place, so I would know what to expect. Eventually the day came and my fear was that we would not get there or that Lawrence would change his mind and not see me.
Sitting in the room I started worrying, then the door opened and Lawrence came in. The conversation gradually started – I asked him my questions which he answered. I told him about Carl – how alike we were in our ways, his wonderful sense of humour and what a humanitarian he was. The fact that my marriage had broken down because of the person I had become following his death. I told him I did not hate him, because I have strong feelings of what is right and he had owned up to his part in my son’s death. I asked Lawrence if he was truly sorry for what he had done, if he would never re-offend again and if he would make something of his life – otherwise Carl would have suffered for nothing. I stood up at the end of the meeting and held my hand out to Lawrence – he took my hands in his and kept saying over and over again how sorry he was. Going home in the car I felt as though every bit of energy had been drained from me. Around three days later I felt that, after four long years, I had received some closure on what had happened that night. I would urge anyone who is in similar circumstances to do what I have done.”
Since the meeting each has written to the other once. Paula has considered perhaps writing again on a yearly basis to see how Lawrence is progressing; and he would like to let her know about his life and what he does when he eventually leaves prison. This meeting would not have been possible without the commitment of Paula, Lawrence and the VLO, and the support of the prison and its staff.
Source: Marian Liebmann’s book, ‘Restorative Justice: How it works’ (2007, Jessica Kingsley Publishers)