Photography by Brian Moody
John Carter got involved in crime at the age of 12. After eight years in prison he finally got to meet one of his victims. John is now married with two children. He works as a gardener and is taking a degree in English Literature.
I started getting into trouble when I was at school – shoplifting, burglary, that kind of thing. At 14 I was sent to a detention centre for three months, after which I went straight back into petty crime. When I left school I had no qualifications and joined a Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. By now I was committing more serious offences, making the lives of my mother and four sisters an absolute misery. But for me it was all just a game of cops and robbers. I was in and out of jail and even committed a serious offence while on the run: that was when I hurled a table into the air in a pub and a young girl had her face badly lacerated.
By 22, as a result of armed robbery, I received an eight-year sentence. I felt no remorse and from day one I rebelled against the prison. I was proud of my crimes – they were me and showed people that I was a nasty, evil bastard who was not to be messed with. At one time I ended up doing solitary at Dartmoor for 18 months because by that point I’d become almost rabid and would attack anyone. It was then that a psychiatrist suggested that I go to the therapeutic prison, Grendon Underwood.
At Grendon we worked together in small groups. A lot of soul searching went on. I did exceedingly well in therapy and started helping others. I started getting anxious about being released in case I went back into crime. It was then that my probation officer started telling me about restorative justice. She felt I’d reached a point where I could feel empathy, and suggested that perhaps I should meet one of my victims. The question was, which one? There were literally hundreds. My probation officer asked me which offence stuck in my mind as the most damaging, and I immediately thought about the incident in the pub. The victim was tracked down and amazingly she agreed to meet me.
When I walked into the visiting room, I noticed that the girl had a prominent six-inch scar on the side of her face. I had no idea who she was and yet I felt this deep bond between us because we’d shared something – something that for her was of course entirely negative. We both sat there and looked at each other. I could see that she was full of rage. It was highly traumatic; her father was clenching his fists, her mother looked distraught. I was the first to speak, and for the first time I found I could express how I’d felt at the moment of the offence. It was also the first time I was able to take on board the hurt I’d caused. Then she took me through what had happened to her that night and how it had affected her ever since. We both broke down and cried.
Finally, I told her how remorseful I felt and it was then, after a brief pause, that she said, “I forgive you”. I hadn’t asked for this and I certainly didn’t expect it, but by God those words had a profound effect. They stopped me in my tracks and concentrated my resolve never to repeat anything like this. As for my victim, I think meeting me allowed her to put a face to her fear and reassured her that she would never again be attacked.
That was in 1989, and every year that goes by is another year that I haven’t re-offended. The only person I have to thank for that is my victim. She gave me this incredible gift.
Recently, I felt it was time to confess to my children that I’d been in prison. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do. My daughter didn’t want to hear any more, but my son just said, “What sort of gun was it?”