By Imran Ahmed
Ken Clarke, the cuddly fag-peddling Justice Secretary, is on a collision course with his base: the Daily Mail ideologues that demand more people in jail and an expansion of sentencing, with the releaseof today’s White Paper. I unsurprisingly disagree with the Daily Mail (but when do I ever agree with them?), and, somewhat discomfortingly, agree with Ken Clarke. He is in favour of a major expansion of restorative justice programmes, designed to help offenders understand the implications of their crime and aiming to neutralise the fear victims face. Before restorative justice was trendy, I had my own experience with forgiveness and humility. It changed me forever; I’d like to share it with you as this debate starts around the country.
Nearly a decade ago, I was grinning ear-to-ear, waiting for a cab in Soho. I’d just spent a night with my best friends in a bar in Soho celebrating my acceptance to a course at university. My family is South Asian and I speak the lingo so I asked the Pakistani cab driver in Urdu for a cab back to my flat.
The guy behind me grunted and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Don’t speak in Paki mate. You’re in facking England.” I was in no mood for a fight, so I just answered, “Well I speak English too, but I was just being respectful to my elder.” Clearly a bad move.
I didn’t see the key, but I felt it. He punched it, secured between two fingers, into my face, straight between my eye and my nose. It was excruciating. My tear duct sliced in two. My orbit – the bony sheath surrounding my eye – shattered with the pressure. It sent me reeling. With the bystanders having moved away quickly, I was forced to defend myself, partly blinded by the pouring blood, insane with rage and terror as I thought I’d lost my eye, and managed to wrestle him to the ground. A nearby police van emptied rapidly and we were pulled apart.
By the time I got to hospital friends had joined me. My horrendously contorted face was patched up. Tests on my vision. Look this way. Can you see the dot? Look that way. What can you see? Every time I failed to see something, I’d well up. A nightmare unfolding; unlike most, one not of my making. Instead the result of a skinhead filled with hate and booze. All the way back from the hospital people had stared at me. I’ll never forget one woman who looked at me with a mix of disgust and fear – she assumed I was some kind of thug – and crossed the road to avoid me. I’d worked hard at school, university and in life to avoid that kind of shit. A mentally robust, confident and strong man became a recluse. My flatmate, Joanna, tried to help. But I was just terrified. I saw that sucker punch every night. Keep going over my mistakes. Should’ve ducked. Move the other way. Push his arm down. It took a month before I was fully healed and I could leave my house.
Slowly things went back to normal. The Metropolitan Police were amazing. I had a named contact who spoke to me a number of times; even if I just wanted to say I felt the fear again. Once when I’d drunk myself into a stupor to forget on a day I flinched at every sound I heard. A date was set for court months later, and by then I had recovered fully. I was weeks away from going to university for my course. As I got to Southwark Crown Court, I felt good. Life was not bad for me. My face was back to normal and my eye had healed apart from a small scar that, frankly, made me look cool.
As I got inside, the CPS barrister sat me down and explained the case. And then I asked the question that changed both mine, and I hope, my attacker’s life. I asked about him. Who he was.
My attacker was five years older than me. He’d had a history of abuse as a child. As a youth and then adult, he’d lashed out at society. Several minor crimes. A major crime. Jail and release. For a while he’d been fine. Eight months earlier, days after he’d attacked me, his girlfriend had his child. They married. Since the attack he’d shown huge regret. He’d attended courses. Alcohol. Violence. Reports were positive; he’d engaged with the teams and tried to sort himself out. Tried to get his life back on track. I stopped for a moment. Could I really condemn this man to jail? For months all I’d done was read up on the law surrounding racially aggravated actual bodily harm – the crime they’d charged him with. He’d go down for some time all things considered. And I wanted that. I’d thought about my righteous vengeance. I would stand up in court, healed, and watched that bastard go down. But suddenly my lust for vengeance had gone. I was dealing with a human being. As vulnerable and shitty as I was in so many ways.
And so I wrote to the judge. I told him I was better physically and mentally. That I was positive about my future and how my future was the result of a benevolent society that had let the child of immigrants in Manchester have a full and successful life. I was, for all intents, happy. I told him I wanted my attacker to know that this “Paki” was a forgiving and loving person that could find it in my heart to forgive and love my attacker if he could use that to counter his negative perceptions of my race. If my forgiveness could gift him understanding. And that if he was truly regretful, that it would break my heart to separate a child from his father. And a father from his child.
The judge that day heard my plea and gave my attacker a suspended sentence. My act of forgiveness gave me control over my destiny and my feelings; I have never felt scared or had a flashback to that incident since. And, as I heard from the CID officer I’d been dealing with, it gave him his chance at redemption and putting a life of anger and violence behind him. A chance he took. Nothing in my life gives me more pride or pleasure. That I could help one man change.
So Ken Clarke, godspeed. Restorative justice is not just humane, it is transformative justice. It’s not a “liberal” initiative; it can be tougher than prison. It forces offenders to face their crimes, their victims, and make the tough cognitive steps to fully recognise the impact of their criminality. It can be so powerful; it can make all of us better than we were before. And although he is a vile Toryboy and I am a partisan hack par excellence, I’ll have my fingers crossed for that aspect of his reforms. But be warned Mr Clarke, my eyes will be keenly trained on the frontline to see if you put your money where your seemingly well-intentioned mouth is.