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Katarzyna Grabka

"Every time I am most struck by that single moment when the perpetrator goes along the corridor to the room where they meet the other side. These seconds reveal their weaknesses, anxieties and fears. Nobody knows what to expect. That is the moment when the restorative justice starts to work."

 

 

 

I came to England just after my high school leaving exams in 2010. The idea was that as I had already been admitted to a university in Poland, I would come to Britain for three months to work as a waitress, earn some money, and go back. But I met Tomek, who is now my husband. These three months got extended till today.

I changed my plans and decided to get into university here in Britain. I began with construction engineering course but when I came to the first classes it turned out I am the only woman among 400 participants, so I changed my mind.

A year later I made a second attempt and started a degree course in criminal psychology. At that time I had a half-time job in a care home where I worked with people with various handicaps. By approaching them with humbleness and patience, I could learn a lot about how they function, but also about the power of pure human empathy.

More or less at the same time, I volunteered with a team dealing with mediation and restorative justice in Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex. At first, I worked in a duo with my boss and later on I started to be increasingly on my own, taking more and more complicated cases.

When some time later I started considering whether I should leave and change my qualification I received an offer to stay and become a coordinator of the entire network of more than 45 volunteers. I could not say no.

Since that time I have been dealing with hundreds of various cases, from neighbour disputes to murders. Sometimes it is the victim or their family who insist on a meeting, more rarely it is the perpetrator, who for example suffers from pangs of conscience.

Every time I am most struck by that single moment when he or she goes along the corridor to the room where they meet the other side. These seconds reveal their weaknesses, anxieties and fears. Nobody knows what to expect. That is the moment when the restorative justice starts to work.

Each perpetrator is obliged to take a special course to raise their understading of the situation from the point of view of the victim and victims’ family. Many of them, however, shut themselves to the perspective of the other side and focus on lamenting on the consequences for them and their families, forgetting about the suffering caused to the other side.

Here lies the sense of restorative justice: in opening their minds to the consequences of the crime and the damage they did to other people. We can talk about that, instruct and prove, but one look into the eyes of the victim or their family can tell much more.

This theory is not only mine. All available research prove that people who have come through this process are less likely to reoffend.

Such a meeting is also a relief for the victim or the family because they can ask questions that are bothering them and it helps them to deal with traumas that arose as a result of the crime.

Many of our volunteers are women. My task is to select such a team that allows us to play our part. Gender is often quite significant because of safety and predicting possible behaviours of other participants.

I remember my early days in this job and how the criminals could behave towards women, even if we represent the police: they can send kisses and make derogatory comments. This is not nice - but after some time you know how to address this immediately to close the topic.

I am aware of this burden, and I do my best to take care of our volunteers. The load of the cases they work on is slowly growing - to make sure they are prepared and know how to deal with each situation. They can also receive ongoing psychological support.

The fact that I am a Pole does not influence my job because I speak without a clear Polish accent. Most perpetrators do not even know that I am not British.

I try to avoid cases involving Polish citizens - what I can do at the most is to offer advice or translation service. There is one absolute rule of my work: I must always remain impartial.

Professionalism comes before nationality. There are no exceptions.

 

Words: Jakub Krupa

Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

© 2012 Ministry of Foreign Affairs