David (England)

“These boots are like my life - they've been healed, resoled and restored.”

Photography by Brian Moody

In 2003 David was released from prison after serving almost 17 years of a life sentence for a double domestic murder. During his prison sentence he spent four years at HMP Grendon Underwood, a prison run along therapeutic lines.

In the 1980’s I was convicted of a double murder. I cannot discuss the details here owing to the rights to anonymity of those still affected. However, I can say that circumstances at that time had conspired to take me to my lowest ebb. Everything I valued in life, I was about to lose. The night before the offences, I went to bed and washed down a fistful of pills with Southern Comfort. I didn’t expect to wake up. When I did awake, 12 hours later, my head was all messed up with drugs. All sense of value for human life had dwindled to zero.

I spent the first part of my sentence on D Wing at Wormwood Scrubs: a hard, brutal place full of lifers. Then I heard about HMP Grendon, a prison run on group therapy lines. I knew that in order to make sense of my life I had to go there. In 1990 I arrived at Grendon. The therapy gave me insight into myself. As I started putting together the jigsaw pieces of my life, I took on board the wider consequences of the crime. For the first time I realised how much my actions had blighted my children’s lives.

I have struggled with the concept of forgiveness. At first I was seeking forgiveness from others, then at Grendon I realised I had a real problem with forgiving myself. I had counselling with the Chaplain. He was a great guy. We had fierce debates. During one of our talks he went for me, pinning me up against the wall. “Who the fuck do you think you are?” he shouted. “If God can forgive you, why can’t you forgive yourself? Do you think you’re better than God?”

I still struggle with the issue of forgiveness, but since then I’ve been able to find a place within myself where my crime is easier to bear. I don’t deserve forgiveness, but unless you can reach that point where you feel OK, you can never fully heal and move on.

When I was at Grendon I took part in a live Kilroy programme. I was sitting next to a couple who had lost their daughter in a violent unsolved murder. Having opened the programme with my story, the cameras then panned to the couple. They turned on me. Suddenly, in their eyes, I became the perpetrator. It was pretty ugly: their feelings were ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em’.

And yet from this encounter came the most precious friendship. The moment the cameras stopped rolling the three of us just embraced and cried. Later they started writing to me and visiting me in prison.
They kept in contact until I was due to be released. Perhaps they couldn’t handle contact beyond that point, but for all of us some sort of healing had been reached. It certainly gave me a valuable insight into what victims and extended families go through.

Grendon enabled me to shed my past and to grow. Although rehabilitating and finding a supportive employer is difficult, I’ve managed to change a negative into a positive – and I owe that to my victims. Recently, sorting through some of my belongings stored in a friend’s loft, I’ve been reconnecting with my past. In one of the boxes I found my favourite boots. These boots are like my life – they’ve been healed, resoled and restored.

[Unfortunately this story has a very sad ending. Two years after collecting David’s story, he reoffended – killing again and then hanging himself. The Forgiveness Project considered removing the story from the website but decided to keep it up. It is a pertinent reminder of how not everyone makes it through.]