Restored and forgiven
Ray & Vi Donovan
When I met Ray & Vi Donovan, the authors of Restored and forgiven, I discovered that Ray is from Cork and Vi is a Londoner. Theirs was a very ordinary family. But one evening, as two of their sons walked along with a friend, minding their own business, they were attacked by a gang. The attack was completely unprovoked. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Ray & Vi’s world was turned upside down, when that same night their 18 year old son Chris died of his injuries.
They try to explain what it felt like:
‘One minute you’re talking, the next you’re crying your eyes out. Your emotions are running wild. All you want is to wake up from this bad dream and have your loved one back home.’
In Restored and forgiven they tell how they coped, and how at times they didn’t. They describe the attack. They tell of the anguish of not being allowed to touch their son when asked to identify him, because his body was considered a ‘crime scene’. They share the horror of being told that they couldn’t bury Chris for 16 weeks. Then there’s the police investigation and the arrests, and over a year later, the court case. Three young men are given life sentences.
Through all this, their church community is there for them. At times they rail against God, but their relationship with Jesus does give them the strength to go on. But even the night that Chris dies, they have an inkling that God will ask them to forgive. And so, years later, and after much preparation each time, they actually meet his murderers. What transpires at those meetings is humbling to read.
This led them into Restorative Justice. They explain that the police and the courts are concerned with Retribution, which asks three questions – What crime has been committed? Who is to blame? And What is the punishment? But the person missing from these questions is the victim. In Ray & Vi’s case, the police were very supportive, and they were kept up to date with developments. But they were still onlookers, and because they were not even witnesses, they felt on the side-lines more than ever during the court case.
To quote Ray & Vi:
‘Restorative Justice is not rocket science. It is just two people in a room talking. Meeting the people who killed Chris was so positive and powerful for us. For the first time in years we felt we had a voice. We were able to express our thoughts and feelings to the offenders and receive answers to questions that we were not able to ask in court. …..
When we met the three young men who took Chris’s life, and were able to tell them what it was like for us and our family, the things we had to go through, and were able to tell them about the ripple effect and how it affected everyone from our family to the community, it made them realise the number of people who were affected by their actions.
Then to hear them tell the truth and admit their crime and say they were sorry, made us both feel like a ton of coal was taken off our backs. We felt free for the first time because we got all we ever wanted: we got answers to our questions, and the truth. Now we hope we can leave those questions in the past and move into the future. … Going over and over this won’t bring back Chris. But we have hope, knowing these boys now understand what they did to us and our family, and hopefully will not commit another crime and make more victims.
As a result of all that they have been through, Ray & Vi now run prison programmes that demonstrate to offenders that crimes always have victims. These programmes are an eye-opener for the prisoners, they change hearts and actually reduce re-offending. Ray & Vi Donovan have even been awarded an MBE for this work.