Deborah Hollywood (Northern Ireland)

“I thought, if that was my son it would break my heart.”

In August 2009, Deborah Hollywood answered the door of her Belfast home to a 16-year-old boy called Jordan. He was drunk and threatening to hurt Deborah’s teenage daughter. He refused to leave, broke the wing-mirror off the family car, and was eventually arrested. Deborah agreed to meet him at a restorative justice conference facilitated by the Youth Justice Agency of Northern Ireland.

It was about 8pm and very dark when Jordan came to my door looking for ‘a 16-year-old girl’ called Samantha. I said, ‘Yes’, even though Samantha was actually 19 at the time. He said, ‘She’s only after giving off at me’.  I had no clue what he was talking about.

Jordan was dressed in a band uniform and clutching a bottle of drink in his hand, swaying.  I told him that Samantha was out. He said he’d got into an argument with her and that my son was going to hit him. I told him that my son wouldn’t do a thing like that.

Samantha and her brother were just down the road, so I called them into the house to find out what was going on. My son said he knew nothing about it, but Samantha explained that she and Jordan had got into an argument.

All this time, Jordan was waiting outside. He said he would go away and forget about it, but he didn’t. Ten minutes later he knocked on the door again and I said, ‘Jordan, please go away. It’s a wee argument between you and a girl and it’s going to seem funny in the morning.’ But he was pumped up with anger and insisted he wanted to sort it there and then.

He said, ‘If your son hits me, I’ll fight him in the street.’ Then he said he would hit Samantha too and I told him again to leave. By this point my ten-year-old had started to cry. I told Jordan he had to go and eventually he did – but within minutes he was back, shouting and waving his hands. He was so angry. In the end I told him that if he didn’t get off my doorstep I would go for the police, but he didn’t take any notice. In fact, he turned his threats on me, shouting ‘I’ll get the big lads for you’, meaning that he would have me beaten up.

Then he broke the wing-mirror off the car and ran off up the road. I didn’t know what he was going to do next so I called the police. They caught him easily enough but he put up a fight; gave them false information about his name and address, and denied he’d been anywhere near my door. He also said that he hadn’t touched the car.

Once Jordan had been arrested I felt hugely relieved. But that night I couldn’t sleep and was up until half-past four in the morning. The police kept him over night and his mother had to bail him the next day. He was released with restrictions.

Not long after, a woman called Geraldine, a Restorative Justice practitioner with the Youth Justice Agency, approached me and asked if I would be willing to meet with Jordan. At first I was unsure. The idea of being in the same room as him put me on edge, because I didn’t know if I’d be able to hold my temper. But when Geraldine said there would be guidelines about behaviour, I felt better. I had never heard of Restorative Justice before.

The thought of meeting Jordan frightened me, and I didn’t want to get into an argument with him, but I wanted to know why he’d behaved the way he had. Why he kept bothering me and threatening us all, instead of leaving it alone. I wanted to ask him if he was genuinely sorry. Did he know the trouble he’d caused, and did he realise how much trouble he was in?

On the day of the meeting my cousin took me in his car. I was shown into the conference room where I had a chat with Geraldine and the liaison officer and Jordan’s solicitor. Then Jordan was brought in with his sister and sister-in-law. When he came into the room my stomach was in knots.  I felt sick.

We sat down. Geraldine gave us notes about what we weren’t allowed to do – for instance, if we felt angry we weren’t allowed to shout or swear or go for each other. Then Jordan and I talked to each other. I said, ‘Why did you do it? Do you know what you’ve done?’ I told him I wasn’t there to cause him any harm; I was there to help him. I had been angry, I said, but I wasn’t any longer. But I wanted him to prove that he could turn his life around; I wanted to see that he could go and get a job and make something of himself.

A few times during the meeting I broke down crying, because I couldn’t help putting myself in his shoes and this upset me. Suddenly I felt compassion for him.  I thought, if that was my son it would break my heart.

Jordan didn’t want to talk at first. All he said was, ‘Yes, no, uh-huh’. Geraldine was trying to get him to speak. It was when Jordan and I were talking face to face that we finally started to have a conversation. I think he could feel that I was trying to help him.

By the end of the conference we were laughing and joking and he did say he was genuinely sorry for what he had done. He’d apologised earlier and I hadn’t believed him, but this time, seeing his wee smile, I realised that he meant it. When it was all done I gave him a kiss and a hug and I said I would do what I could to help.