It is neither a pink fluffy sorry saying exercise, nor is it a get out of jail card

Published: Friday, March 9th, 2018

by Peter Woolf

Our past is only a story, and as all stories of the past, my past is made up of a multitude of stories that, eventually led to an introduction into Restorative Justice. Its strange, surreal almost, when i look back to the days that I call ‘The Madness’. It’s hard to even recognise the person as myself, yet, it was. My life was one of loneliness, not sadness, but aloneness…

I could get all Freudian and try and be clever about my past offending behaviours, but, the bottom line is this, I didn’t care about myself, therefore it was unlikely that I would care about others.

My offending began at a very early age, i think it was more to do with acceptance than anything else; mostly my crimes were about gain financially, however, twice i got arrested for violence. The crimes for monetary gain were rarely planned, opportunist mainly, so, victims were, in general, nameless faceless people who were represented in the form of an A4 piece of paper (statement) and a barrister putting the case for the Crown to the court.

I never thought about consequences to myself, so I would hardly think about the victims of my crime (A4 pieces of paper) or the trauma I was inflicting. I suppose the best description of my old self is SELFISH !!

So, after 18+ years in prisons, going through the motions of all the offending behaviour programs and the victim awareness offerings, I found myself back in Pentonville Prison for what was to be the final time.

I was totally institutionalised, and felt completely at home in prison, in fact, I was pleased to be there, it was the easy option for me. The crimes that I had committed were not even distant memories, it was what happened, I was a criminal, I was a career criminal, it was my job. But, I was also a professional prisoner.

In 2002 I was visited by Kim Smith, a then serving police officer who was part of the Metropolitan police team involved in the research of Restorative Justice, it seems that a computer had randomly selected the crime I had committed to enter into the RJ program.

To be honest, I agreed as I thought it would be fun, and it would get me out of the cell for an hour or so, I never really gave any thought to what Kim had been saying during the preparation session, in fact I doubt I even listened, I mean, wasnt this just another one of those silly Home Office things that come along now and then?

The day came, I was nervous, I was about to enter an unknown arena. I almost changed my mind, but, at the door of the room where the RJ was to take place was Kim Smith, who, with a gentle tug, said, “hello mate, in ya come”…

I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life, nor will I forget the intensity of the next 90 minutes, there were tears, there was honesty, there was pain, there was laughter, but most of all, there was understanding.

For the first time in my life I experienced another human being’s pain and emotion, witnessed the anguish, saw the tears. In a court of law this does not happen, it is a very sterile, austere setting, a Shakespearean tale that is played out by the 2 main players, the barrister for the defence, and the barrister for the Crown.

In the words of Mr William Riley, who was the last of my victims of crime, and , who is, to this day, my dear friend, “the victim is the most affected, yet the least involved”.

I have said it before, and I will continue to say it, RJ is not an easy option, it is neither a pink fluffy sorry saying exercise, nor is it a get out of jail card… in fact, I’ve had easier days at the Old Bailey.


Watch Peter Woolf and Will Riley tell their story of how they met in this short yet powerful film. Available for purchase here.


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