Janika Cartwright’s restorative justice story
This story is not to be reproduced without the express permission of Why me?
Young mum Janika suffered a violent knife attack at the hands of her former partner. Stabbed eight times in broad daylight whilst sitting in her car – with her nine month old baby soundly asleep in the back seat – the knife pierced her heart miraculously she and her unborn baby survived.
Janika’s partner was convicted for attempted murder and remains in prison. Janika has chosen to share her experience of Restorative Justice to empower others and to widen access to Restorative Justice. This is Janika’s story in her own words:
Fighting for my life
“Being stabbed repeatedly by the man I loved was the most terrifying experience. I thought I was going to die. I was scared for my own life, but being pregnant and with my 9 month old baby on the back seat I couldn’t run. All I could do was kick and punch to defend myself and scream for someone to help me. It is amazing that I did wake up and I thank God, the doctors and medical team who saved my life.
Gradually I began to recover physically from open heart surgery and realised the wounds were deep and they weren’t just physical. They were going to have a lasting psychological impact too. I had unanswered questions of why? running on a constant loop through my head – it was exhausting and debilitating.”
After the court case
“I wanted him to be accountable to me – not to a judge, not to the police not to prison officers but to me. I had fought for my life and now I felt I was having to fight for the chance to heal. I felt my voice wasn’t being heard – the police, the courts, victim support all were making assumptions about what was best for me.
I heard about a process called restorative justice and asked if it was something I could be involved with. I felt it would help me come to terms with what had happened and answer my questions. I felt there were hurdles put in my way and it drained my energy to feel those who could help were putting barriers in my way. The first phone call with Why me? was like the flood gates opening and for the first time I felt I was being listened to.”
Both the victim and the offender are involved in the Restorative Justice process and both must be willing and agree to participate. Restorative Justice is about getting answers – it is a step in the recovery process and, for the offender, a chance to understand and confront the impact of their actions. A willingness to forgive the offender it is not a precondition to participating in Restorative Justice. Many participants do not forgive.
“My Mom was the emotional support that I needed, I knew she understood. My facilitator helped me to prepare and focus on the questions that I wanted to ask and think about how I might feel and react. Eventually, I was able to go to the prison where my ex-partner was being held and meet him face to face to ask all the questions that had plagued my mind since the day he attacked me.
I wanted to tell him the impact his actions had on me, my children, my family and my friends. I wanted to face my fear, I was nervous, it was the scariest thing I had ever done yet I felt driven to get the answers I needed. I wanted to see he understood the impact of his actions and what he had lost. On the day of the attack I felt as though I had met the devil – who was this person ravaged by anger and hate? My emotions felt raw – I wasn’t sure who the person was I was going to meet.”
Face to Face
“I was shaking, I felt fear and devastation – this was the man who had wanted to kill me. Then, I saw him and to me he was covered in shame, his head was down. In court he would not look me in the eye. He had not looked me in the eye since the moment of the attack. It took ten minutes until he lifted his head and looked at me.
I wanted him to understand I was not a victim. I had found forgiveness and was ready to move on with my life and find happiness again. The meeting lasted three hours and I showed him pictures of my injuries and of our children so that he could see the consequences of his actions and what he had lost.”
“At the end of the meeting he left the room first. As the door closed all of the pain I had held in was released. I sobbed harder than I ever had and felt weak and utterly drained. That night I slept through until morning without waking, it was the first time in over three and a half years. For the next week I felt exhausted and sad with a growing feeling of acceptance for all that had taken place. Then friends started to say I was walking differently, I sounded different and I felt I could breathe again. Forgiveness released me from the anger, hatred and bitterness that had tried to plague my heart as a result of his actions.”
“I refused to be a victim; I wanted to acknowledge what had happened to me but not be defined by it. I wanted to look to the future. Taking part in restorative justice was the key that unlocked the door to my future.”
Janika is a Restorative Justice Ambassador for the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and committed to promoting and widening access to Restorative Justice across the West Midlands.