Facing the Killers

Posted: 19 March 2017 in Prisons
Tags: , ,
Chris Donovan cake.jpg

Chris Donovan

Chris Donovan was murdered on a suburban street one evening by people he did not know.  Not an attack by a hysterical lover.  Not a robbery gone wrong.  Not hit be crossfire in gang warfare.  Not a spiteful but unintentionally forceful punch.  This death is in the premier league of pointless killings.

Keep him alive
The parents keep him alive in the eyes of others who needed to meet the memory of him.  They told the tragic story to prisoners in HMP Millbank*.  I was there, helping lead a victim awareness course there (Sycamore Tree).

Chris’s father and mother come in and told the whole story with great feeling, but without rancour.  It was emotional for them, we could all see.  There was no hissing and judgement on the prisoners there.  Instead there was a plea to change.  Pleas to turn their lives around.  For the sake of all the future Chris’s. And for their own sakes too.  And the prisoners were all moved by what they heard.

Face to face
The parents also wanted to meet the actual murderers.  To get answers to questions.  To see if some good could come out of all this horror.  After the perpetrators were eventually released, the parents met one, and later, a second of the three convicted.

Jackson* faced the parents and said “When I was in prison I fought the system and because of this they put me on a victim awareness course (Sycamore Tree). After hearing the victim speak I just couldn’t get Christopher out of my head and my heart.” He finished up “I was a fifteen year old coward I murdered your son and I am so sorry.”  It took years to get to this point.  A long time – but a long distance had been travelled too.

Later still, the parents met Frank*, the second boy sentence.  This is an abridged version of the letter he later wrote.  Read the full version in on The Chris Donovan Trust.

My name is Frank* and I along with other associates was involved in the death of Christopher Donovan. During the first couple of years in custody I found it too difficult to accept what I had done and fought against the sentence I received.

However as time went by I began to realise that in order to move on in my life I had to face up to the death of Christopher, take responsibility for the person I was then and try to develop myself to lead a more positive life in the future. I started to approach courses with a greater motivation, I wanted to understand and make changes. I found the more I took responsibility the better I felt inside.

I was released … and again giving the opportunity to get involved with Restorative Justice.  Despite fearing that they would think of me as a monster, I felt if …the parents… wanted to meet me then it was the least I could do to demonstrate my regret and remorse for what happened to Christopher and acknowledge the impact upon them and their family.

Hearing the family’s experience at the time of Christopher’s death and the impact that losing him is such a horrible way had upon them made it real and I was able to hear as see their pain for myself.

When …the parents… told me they forgave me it meant everything, it meant that they understood that what happened to Christopher was an incident that never should have occurred. Hearing them give me permission to have the best life that I can made me feel like a human again, a good person with a clear focus and a positive future.

I owe that to Christopher. Meeting … the parents… has helped me to accept that I owe it to myself too. When I committed this offence I was lost with no direction or purpose, that is no longer the case.

Back in prison
When in HMP Millbank*, Terry* asked Chris’s father and me that did they get “closure” by doing these visits?  Were they able to “move on”?  Oh dear.  I have found that bereavement jargon has seeped into the common language and is traded quite commonly by prisoners.  Where does this stuff come from?  Chris’s father was adamant there is never any healing of pain, or lessening by coming on Sycamore Tree courses like this. The pain is just as real or vivid as years ago.  But it does now have a purpose.  The “pointless killing” gets a point, now.

As the course came to an end, men came up and said how moved they were by Chris’s murder.  Sycamore Tree is not a religious programme.  But there is something of the Easter Story here.  Like some sort of crucifixion, Chris’s mum and dad recreate in the telling, the horror and death. To be followed, for some of the listening prisoners, to have their own life turnarounds.  Their own personal resurrection.


* name changed


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