Brother is finally coming back after 6 weeks of illness, police intervention, psychologist's appointments and home schooling. His suspension re-entry included this meeting, where the three people most affected by his actions in the school setting sat opposite him at a table and told him what it meant to have been violated in this way.
Before he entered, the three of us, two teachers and one student, encouraged each other nervously. I was surprised by the level of emotion I brought to the meeting; it's been weeks, and yet the sense of betrayal lingers.
He came in looking suitably sheepish, withdrawn, closed even.The Head of School had confided that she was unsure of the authenticity of his remorse. There had been many 'platitudes' spouted, many 'I'm really sorry'-s, downcast eyes and cliches. It all sounded a bit practised. As he came in, he had difficulty meeting our eyes, although I could see him trying.
As the Head of School welcomed everyone to the meeting, outlined the purpose and prayed for us, I felt a tight wedge of emotion starting to unravel. My eyes prickled. I started to surreptitiously suck in air.
The first teacher, our art teacher, began her explanation of how his actions had affected her. He apologised, dry eyed. The Student, a beautiful, gentle Asian lad, swallowing hard, managed to contain himself enough to say:
"I was so disappointed, that you stole my phone, you were in my Home Group, you sold it on Gumtree to a man who didn't know it was my phone and the Police had to tell me all about what had happened."
And then it was my turn.
The whole thing leaked out through my eyeballs.
"I'm sorry," I choked,"Mrs A is going to lose it."
And then I told him. I told him through tears and sobs as I outlined the hurt, the betrayal, the awful week with no phone...(which I now realise is more of a life support system than a phone!). I told him how I could NOT believe that it had been one of our students that would do this to me. I told him of the money it had cost me and the anguish that had ruined my last night of the musical, which should have been a joyful celebration of our efforts. And then I told him how frightened I was for him, and his future.
He started off in the same practised tone but I asked him a question or two and then he started to go red and tear up.
" I don't know why I did it. I used to take things when I was little and I wished I could tell them I'd done it but I never did.....I guess it must be a habit or something"
I couldn't help myself, I interjected.
"Brother, I am not only upset because of my shock and betrayal, I am frightened for you. I am frightened for your future if you choose this path."
And then he started to weep.
Our beautiful art teacher put the icing on the cake.
"I have always had a problem with trust. I will cut people off if they betray me. There is nothing else. I don't need them in my life. But when I started to join the dots Brother and realised that it was you who'd taken the art camera, I realised God was teaching me something. I had been there for every occasion where you'd affected someone in our school. I was there when Student's phone was stolen and I saw how he was affected; I had spent hours with you using the art camera and I felt personally affected by that loss and I was there when Mrs A's phone went missing, and she didn't know her husband's number because it was in her phone, so we had to put MY number into the 'find my iphone' app and then it was me that got the phone call to say someone had bought her phone off Gum Tree. And when I realised this Brother, I knew that God had a lesson for me, and I prayed for you right then and there, I prayed that you would be able to take responsibility for this and that it wouldn't break you."
There was much weeping.
Our Head of School reported that it was the most affected she'd seen him.
I really, really hope that this worthy young man has learned a once only life lesson, and that standing at a crossroads, he chooses the right path. He has everything going for him. He has a loving family, a forgiving school, he's smart, creative and funny. He's a nice looking lad with a quick, creative mind and there is much he could bring to the world. God has given him everything he needs to overcome his weakness. Let us hope that he accepts it all and moves forward in love.
And if he does, I think this restorative justice process will have had an enormous impact.
I first heard about it back in 2007, and whilst I know it is an uncomfortable thing for our Western Society to come to terms with, I think its benefits speak for themselves.
May there be more of it.