Following his conviction for murder, Toby never believed that he deserved to be happy or to move on with his life. Read about his journey to forgiveness.
If you ask the general public what offenders are the most dangerous or what the most heinous offence is most will say ‘murderers’ and ‘murder’. Back in 1999, I became that person.
I’m sure there are a lot of people reading this that would love me to go into great detail about my crime – I’m not going to. It might make my story more interesting to some but it’s not something that I’m proud of and for anybody reading this who may have lost a friend or family member in similar circumstances, I don’t want to sensationalise what I did.
My crime truly was the lowest point of my life and almost as soon as it had happened I knew that I’d never be able to live with myself. As I saw my victims family being interviewed on the television I knew that I had to do the right thing and I handed myself in to the police.
From that day on I found myself on some type of roller-coaster and just went with it – police interview, court, conviction, prison. I can’t really remember the first couple of years in prison, I didn’t speak to anybody unless I really had to (this included my family) and I didn’t engage with any day to day activities in the prison. I was constantly punishing myself, believing that I wasn’t worthy of any type of kindness or compassion.
I’m not entirely sure when the turning point came, probably about the time that my brother visited me to tell me that he and his partner were expecting a baby. He made it clear that he wanted me to be part of my niece or nephews life and harshly told me:
Stop being so b****y selfish. You’re not the only one affected by your actions so grow up, stop feeling sorry for yourself and make the rest of your life matter”
Nobody had spoken to me like that. Everybody pussy-footed around me, trying to make me feel better but he was right. Although I didn’t deserve anything from my life, my family did and so the transformation started.
I embraced life in prison and found that by helping others I started to feel a bit better about myself. I took on peer roles and became a Listener and generally just helped the other lads on the wing with letters, apps etc. My niece Phoebe was born and I relished every letter I received from my brother and his partner telling me what they’d all been up to.
Eventually my release day arrived and my brother Tom was at the prison gates to take me to the approved premises. I wouldn’t have survived these early days without the support of my family and although I was living over an hour’s drive from them they visited me every weekend without fail.
Six months after I’d been released I’d found myself a job in a supermarket and a small flat to rent. However, more excitingly my brother had decided that the time had come to introduce me to my niece for the first time – she was 8 years old.
As happy as this occasion was, it was tinged with a certain amount of sadness. Phoebe knew all about my past and didn’t hold back asking me questions that other’s had avoided asking but I always tried to be as open and honest as I could. From that day on we became firm friends but it made me sad to think that I’d never have a family of my own – let’s face it, it was unlikely that I’d ever find a woman that would want to be with me.
Although I’d got myself a job with a supermarket that was deemed ‘offender friendly’ I was told by the store manager that they’d never employed anybody with an offence as serious as mine. However, he told me that he valued my honesty and openness and supported my application. I was offered a full time job on the night shift; terrible hours but I was grateful for anything. I worked hard and before long I was promoted to a supervisory role followed by the opportunity to apply for a trainee manager’s position.
I loved the job and the people I worked with although I often felt guilty that I hadn’t disclosed my conviction to my colleagues. It was whilst I was attending a health and safety course as part of my manager’s training that I met Dionne. She was also a trainee manager from another store although in my eyes she should have been a model. She wasn’t just beautiful to look at, she had a wonderful personality as well and, at the end of the two day course, I invited her out for a drink.
After we’d been out a couple of times I knew that I had to tell her about my past. I had no doubt that I could trust her not to gossip about me to anybody but I really wasn’t sure how she’d take the news of my conviction. I thought of all the ways I could break it to her – practised in front of the mirror, wrote her a letter etc but in the end I invited her round to my flat and told her over a cup of tea. She didn’t say anything to start with and then told me that she needed time to think through what I’d told her.
“That’s that” I thought. “I’ll never see her again”
The following evening she appeared at my door and told me that she wanted to know everything. As difficult as it was, I knew that I owed her that much and so took myself back to that fateful day. At the end of my story we were both in tears and I knew that whatever the outcome was, I was so glad that I’d had the opportunity to be honest with her.
Meeting that woman turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened to me. She didn’t walk away, she told me that she wanted to be with me forever. Since then, life has treated me well – I’m now a department manager but even better, at the age of 46, I became a Dad for the first time.
I can never make up for what I did but I can do all I can to be the very best person I can be.
By Toby (name changed to protect identity)
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