Saying “You’re forgiven” before saying “Sorry”

Posted: 18 March 2018 in Prisons, Understanding Others
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“The men are all talking about this on the wings.” Here we are in prison and Will was telling me what he’d heard. He was on the Sycamore Tree victim awareness course but had had to miss Ray and Vi Donovan telling their story.  Of the assault on their two sons and murder of one of them,  Chris Donovan.  Will had heard all this second-hand, but it still amazed him.

Dartmoor therapyWhy?  Brutal assaults like on the Donovan lads are alas, not rare.  Forgiveness by victims isn’t unheard of.  What surprised Will and the men on the wings – was the Donovan’s willingness to come into HMP Slade and tell their story.  To tell it at length, sharing their sorrows and tears.  And then listen with warmth and compassion to the prisoner’s own stories.

The Donovan’s story was certainly powerful.  What made the difference was that the victims were willing to meet face-to-face the very murderers. And forgive.  Willing to forgive even while the offenders had not yet confessed their part in these terrible crimes.  And do it from a very early stage in the judicial proceedings.  Sure – the Donovans wanted justice to be done by The Law.  But they wanted good outcomes in the future for those who injured one son and killed the other.

For the men on this Sycamore Tree course, and from the conversations that spread on the wings, this was astonishing.  “Why would they want to talk to us?”  “They should be giving us grief not warm words.”

The odd thing here is that the victim’s willingness to forgive, greatly helps the offender to say “I’m sorry”.  Is this a case of Redemption before Repentance?? I think so. It is quite an Easter –like tale, of a debt paid and forgiveness on offer, before contrition is offered.

It worked for Will.  Thinking of his own case, as well as those of his mates on the wing, he said “I just didn’t know. We didn’t realise the impact that offences had on the victim”.  Many years, many crimes, and a thick layer of self defence, self justification had built up.  Here, a hand was being offered, not a wagging finger.  And that was enough to open up a bit of hope for Will.

Note: all names and times changed.

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