Park Bench Tales and other writings

Thoughts and writings reflecting the poet within and the activist


The Island 2: The Cave

The Island: The Cave

A cold mist flowed from the depths of the cave

Uninviting but something drew him to step forward

Mystery that attracted and pulled him

Into a gloom that was eerie and damp

A desire to seek out a source

That was the moment he noticed

The figure

An undyed woollen cloth cloaked the form

Huddled against the wall of the cave

Worn leather sandals on skin-cracked feet

Wrinkled long-nailed hands covering the face

A vision perhaps or fantasy he was concocting

In a confused mind that seemed to make no sense

Thoughts flew through his mind

Like sparks stirred from the embers of a fire

Would this figure shape shift to a dragon

Perhaps to an eagle

Was this Ceridwen reappearing

Was the mist from a boiling cauldron deep in the cave

Surrounded by three chanting witches

He stretched out a hand

‘Can I help you’

There was no reply

The figure seemed to curl up further

As if rolling into a ball

Like a hedgehog that had been disturbed

Stepping forward his foot hit a stone

He stumbled over the figure


Not over but through

What trickery was this

The figure must be in his imagination

The torch

He must switch on the torch


Perhaps the batteries needed to be charged

He cursed

This was an island with no electricity

Remote and distanced from the mainland

By a hundred miles

Beyond the mist there is a glow

An old hearth with embers still seemingly alight

Yet no heat came forth

A memory trapped between worlds

Held fast for several thousand years

With no means of escape

He returned to the entrance

The huddled figure was still there

Real or not he addressed the form again

‘Can I help you?’

The figure turned and lowered the hands

A face that was wrinkled with age

Yet bones pushing against thin skin

Silvered hair down her cheeks

Eyes pierced through the gloom

Pale lips began to move


‘Can I help you?’

The face looked puzzled and then frowned

‘Why would you want to help me?’

‘I don’t really know. Who are you? How did you get here?’

‘I am Ottilie by name’

The face went on to explain

An unwanted child from a noble and wealthy family

They had given her the name as a memory

Handed her to sailors to cast adrift

Near the isle of the monks

There was sadness in her eyes

A tear trickled down a grimy cheek

Was she real or was this some trickery?

The monks had left centuries ago

‘How old are you?’

His curiosity was aroused

‘I am as old as you wish’

What did she mean? As old as he wished?

Why was she in the cave?

What had any of this to do with the church?

Was she the visitor who dusted the pew?

Her explanation left him the more confused

An abandoned male baby was a legend so well known

But a female? Why set a female to drift alone?

Was it by fate this isle had become her home?

The monks had learned of her parentage

Then each had taken a vow and had sworn

She must never be allowed to leave the isle

To do so would release the ancient curse

Foretold of the serpent in the verse

Perhaps there was enchantment and some deadly spell

A tale unfolding her position becoming clear

Each day she would go to the church to pray

She wished for her release and placed a trust in Him

Each day she prayed that He would answer her call

Asking what force or form might be preventing her release

What serpents might be the cause of her distress

Threatening to bind her to the island for all time

She sought release but knew not how

So she had daily prayed to Him

Was he to be the saviour that she desired

Could he give her the life that she required

They sat together at the entrance to the cave

She believing that he had come to save

He wondering why was she not within some grave

To the monks she had become a slave

Satisfying forbidden lust upon this enclave

The cold mist now seemed to have dispersed

Was there to be freedom for the cursed

For full three hours they had conversed

Was her freedom by her faith now nursed

What part he was to play as yet undefined

Her demons surely were confined

In some small corner of her mind

Seeking an escape

That would set her spirit free

He looked out to the bay

Watching the breaking waves upon the sand

Should trapped spirits be confined

Within caves shackled in memory

What if the ghosts of monks were still around

Would his discovery draw them from their grave

As they sought to protect their vow and their slave

Could an answer lie in kneeling at those pews

In belief that spirits trapped between two worlds

Could reconcile those opposing views

That return a life to live again

Or upwards to another world ascend

The sun was rising higher now

Their shadows cast back into the cave

Would he be knight or knave

Why had this thought crossed his mind

Perhaps this whole venture had been designed

For him as an actor in another’s drama

Were he to be pawn

If so who moved the piece?

But he determined to stay awhile

Upon the island that is our scene

Could he be an answer to the lady’s prayer

Were there serpents to be cast out

Dragons in lairs to be fought and destroyed

Could there be demons in his mind

Seek further for to be enlightened

Written is the text of these new scrolls

Where truths are never easily revealed

Such a story was never meant to be concealed

Copyright: David Hopcroft February 2022


The Distorted Lens

The Distorted Lens

Before those teenage years

When hormones began to rule your world

Kissing kind of brought the sneers

If you were caught then insults might be hurled

Then as those years took over

There was something happening that was strange

A thing called love was talked about

For teenage boys a signal to go full free range


Monday became the day my mates would boast

They’d been on a day trip to the coast

Exchanging tales of who had seen most

Gloating of how far they had been able to go

Using metaphors I was supposed to know

In the Youth Club I had spent my Friday night

When Kirsten suggested we went out of sight

Down by the bike shed

At the bottom of the yard

Where she taught me how to prolong the kiss

My mates said she was an easy girl who would go all the way

I just thought it better if she taught me how to play

How quickly my mates said Kirsten had gained a reputation

When so many labelled her a slut

Ignoring that what she did pandered to their inclination

As they talked of her boobs and of her butt

I had to make do with imagination

Happy to be stuck

In my country bumpkin rut

Apparently whilst Kirsten was perceived as the village slut

My mates were only seen as sowing their wild oats

Whilst others like Kirsten hid a shame beneath their coats

Only too soon I found myself a student in the smoky city

New friends recounted tales of whores who roamed a certain street

My education expanded as they expounded the nitty gritty

A term now considered underhand

If you understand

They introduced me to Christine who they claimed was on heat

From her sexual appetite they had labelled her a freak

And she gave me far more than a fumble and a peep

Some said she was a dirty girl

Leaving her number on a card by the telephone

That if you offered her the money

She would satisfy your bone

Her customers were young men with an expensive car

Men who had gained the reputation of a stud

Whilst Christine’s had fallen with a thud

She was considered mud

After a well-hung stallion had filled her bud

She took her life after that act

His reputation was both enhanced and intact

How times were changed with the discovery of The Pill

Which was celebrated by the male wishing to exert his will

Whilst Maisie was called a prostitute

As the pill gave her a steady income

The politician in his fine suit

Was heralded as dinkum

How could he be the villain

When all he did was satisfy his need

To sow his seed

Caught out when he spilled some on her tweed

Whilst she was brought before the judge

Her reputation coloured by the Daily Tabloid Court

He was left without a smudge

Whilst every little titbit of her life the media sought

The varifocal lens still distorts the view

When nobility seeking out some privacy to satisfy an urge

Created something of a crisis when two worlds began to merge

Was she Eve who was doing Satan’s bidding

Amoral and obscene

Just who do we think we are kidding

The lens we look through still seems clouded by a stain

Calling her a harlot a working girl a tart a woman of easy virtue

Whilst the other party claims temptation time and again

Presented as the victim to avoid the shame

Helped by a contorted system to protect his family name

Saved because the lens we look through

Still apportions blame

Copyright: David Hopcroft January 2022

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Could the truth lie in parentheses?

Could the truth lie in parentheses?

The passion in his voice spoke of sincerity

(to disguise the lies that are directed at you and me)

A prosperous new future to make the country great

(one that he knew his profits would inflate)

Promising to make life simpler by reducing high taxation

(the poor will pay for that by carefully crafted legislation)

Generating a healthier and stronger economy

(by removing the taxes that pay for social security)

There are some who might protest a little about inequality

(actually I despise and hate those who take a knee)

We should give our brave police the protection that they lack

(especially when they shoot a black man in the back)

It is certainly not my fault the virus has been killing so many folk

(the buck stops at the state even though they’re broke)

We would have saved so many more with my advice

(if you drank the disinfectant with a little ice)

I promise you millions of high paid jobs today

(like all those that I created with the minimum of pay)

We’ll make this country of ours look great again

(by using government cash to make the stock market gain)

I’m the greatest ever president everybody will agree

(by which I mean the closest members of my family)

My face should be on Mount Rushmore for a nation in accord

(before they get my tax returns and discover I might be a fraud)

Copyright: David Hopcroft August 2020

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A God of Love

A God of Love

There is a verse of an old hymn which goes:

‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword

His truth is marching on’

The lines and the tune come from times where language and belief differed and yet sometimes the language of ‘yesteryear’ is misinterpreted.

They listened amazed as the priest stood and raved

In a spanking new church with tall steeple and oak porch

To a congregation who were sure they would be saved

Though they’d dressed in white last night with a flaming torch

Put to their tests this the Christian church at its very best

Calling on justice and the weight of law to fall on protesters’ heads

Ten years of jail at least for the looting pest

The wrath of God to strike them down in their beds

The priest continued louder and louder as he found his voice

God was firmly on the side of the National Guard and the Riot Police

They had to charge and use gas for there was no other choice

To save a man in a White House on a four year lease

In a neighbourhood a few miles away that looked rather run down

Apartment buildings had been neglected for years

A gospel choir sang for the man in a gown

Voices and melody providing a harmony for tears

Then the gown spoke and the voice sounded much the same

You had to march and confront evil to make a change

Nobody was in any doubt at all Whites were to blame

His audience smiled and nodded knowing just what to arrange

Confrontation was inevitable at any time on any street

Two sides who were both convinced God was on their side

Many were injured as violence was used to turn up the heat

At the end of that day far too many had died

The swiftness of the sword of God was misunderstood

The grapes of wrath are not of hate and are so abused

Paul gave us a new vision so that we could see through the wood

Christ as the living image of the God we had misused

For God can only be pure love not an instrument of punishment

The evil that we manage to find is the evil that is within ourselves

Cast that out and we can find room for love as nourishment

Then He will find a mind and heart where love delves

For both must learn that God cannot be on one side

They have to learn together in their seeking

If we are to show desire and unity with peace walking side by side

The way that He wishes us to act is by His guidance keeping

Lay aside those words that fester in anger and hate

For the oppressor has no weapon to defeat a sword made of love

Seek to engage with each other and to open debate

Then you will find His trampled grapes hold the sweetness of His love

Copyright: David Hopcroft June 2020

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Poisoned Kiss

Poisoned Kiss

How long does it take to soften a heart

How does it feel if the heart is hardened

When the heart becomes as hard as a rock

Set in a steel cage for protection

Never wanting to repeat a torment of past struggles

Whose scars can never be healed

How long does it take when trust has gone

When every action becomes viewed with suspicion

When you become an onlooker slowly to be pushed out

Only to realize that the door was already shut

Secrets that are kept from your eyes and your ears

Until silence reveals that all trust has now been lost

How many times can I make the mistake

When I feel my pulse start to race

How many times must I fall from grace

Why I can I no longer look anyone in the face

Lord please save me from another temptation

Unless that love be strong and true to this day

So harden I must when all love turns to dust

Let feelings vaporize and diffuse into the air

Care departs though the gut still spews the wrench

Deceit and lies abound whence lingers the stench

Each time I swear that it will be different

Each time barbs of wire slash into the heart

God forgive me when even hope becomes a sin

The devil I admitted created the mess I am in

Blundering helplessly from one hope to the next

Release the torment from a mind so vexed

Should my soul now be destined to burn in hell

So be it and I must bid this world a last farewell

Copyright: David Hopcroft 2011

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Let not the search be late

Let not the search be late

What life then ? To spin the finely woven silken web,
To attract, ensnare, enmesh the unsuspecting prey.
To hide in some dark corner
And watch with gleaming eyes
The struggle of the victim’s death.
But what if the victim dies ?

Hatred too demands its prey
Fuel for the fire that burns within the mind
To ravage, torture and destroy.
If such is satisfaction, we deceive;
For fire turns to ash and then to dust.
What then could you believe ?

The hungry cat will trap the mouse beneath the claw
And as its bones are slowly crushed
Will let it limp away, then smash again,
Until its neck is broken by one blow.
Yet even though the mouse is devoured
What if the pangs of hunger do not go ?

In seeing only faults of those we meet
We fail then to see ourselves
Blinded by the flash of selfishness
Deafened by the curses which we shout
Each grumble and complaint
Ensures that, from the heart, love is shut out.

What drives us to such mad pursuit ?
When did rejection of our self begin ?
What is it that will free the chains
That bind us in this state ?
Love still holds the golden key;
Let not the search be late.

© David Hopcroft (Celt at Aberffraw) April 1998


He’s got your number too

A poem without an answer. An answer to be sought with my muse.

Well now I’ve just got some news for you

Remember the lies you told on the side of the bus

Remember the arms that killed children on a bus

Remember the tear gas you sprayed at the protestors

Remember when you had them beat up on a bus

Well He’s got your number and it won’t go away

The hell that you cause each and every day

Just will not go away

He’s got your number and it won’t go away

Remember the yellow vest that you kicked on the floor

Remember the anger when you kicked in the door

Remember the homeless when you locked the church door

Remember the orphans when you yelled out no more

Well He’s got your number and it won’t go away

The hell that you cause each and every day

Just will not go away

He’s got your number and it won’t go away

Remember the time you shouted at your wife

Remember how you shut her out and refused to talk

Remember the first time that you hit her

Remember when you threw her out on the street

Well He’s got your number and it won’t go away

The hell that you cause each and every day

Just will not go away

He’s got your number and it won’t go away

Remember the refugees that you totally ignored

Remember how you looked the other way when women were raped

Remember how you proclaimed money more important than life

Remember the villages where you dropped the cluster bombs

Well He’s got your number and it won’t go away

The hell that you cause each and every day

Just will not go away

He’s got your number and it won’t go away

And of course this is not you

Remember the girl that you pulled from the sea

Remember the refugee that you helped cross a border

Remember the life jacket you gave for free

Remember as captain you defied and helped find a port

Well let me tell you He has your number too

Knows of the joys that you bring each day

He will not go away

He knows your number and He’s coming your way

To thank you for all the love you have shown

Remember the clothes that you gave to those at Calais

Remember the White Helmet you wore as you pulled the injured from rubble

Remember the blood as you treated the injured they found

Remember all those you helped over the border to safety

Well let me tell you He has your number too

Knows of the joys that you bring each day

He will not go away

He knows your number and He’s coming your way

To thank you for all the love you have shown

Remember when you gave to the cap of the stranger on the sidewalk

Remember the food that you gave to the food bank

Remember the time that you prayed for the poor

Remember the time you held open the door

Well let me tell you He has your number too

Knows of the joys that you bring each day

He will not go away

He knows your number and He’s coming your way

To thank you for all the love you have shown

Remember when you spoke to the girl who was alone

Remember when you answered the cry of a poet who was lost

Remember when you opened the church to those with no bed

Remember when you found Him again and found your true home

Well let me tell you He has your number too

Knows of the joys that you bring each day

He will not go away

He knows your number and He’s coming your way

To thank you for all the love you have shown

Copyright: David Hopcroft July 2019

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End Game

End Game

(This was written because I feel we ignore the families whose lives are completely broken by the casualties of war and yet there are still some who seem to think that sending in aid is all that is needed. Loss and grief are not so easily healed)

Faded white carnations float on the water now 
Tossed not in haste, or waste, but in the hope of peace. 
Cruise missiles stream overhead, beaten from the plough 
Freedom died today; they terminated the lease.

The children’s bodies lie upon the dusty street 
Limbs scattered across the road, flies swarm all around.
They said it would be quick, no time to drag their feet, 
There would be collateral damage on the ground.

“We come to liberate” said leaflets from the air,
Then the bombs came tumbling down from the night-time skies.
So death was the reward, our freedom from despair.
We’re buried in the rubble, you’ll hear no further cries.

Your aid rebuilt the houses where we used to live,
Oil wells are flowing for you, yes, there are hospitals and schools, 
Such monuments are all the western world can give. 
You really thought you could restore our lives ? You must be fools !

© David Hopcroft March 2003

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any material form (including photocopying or storing it in any medium by electronic means) without the written permission of the copyright owner except in accordance with the provisions

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Restorative or punitive justice. Take your choice.

The systems of law and justice that evolved in the near east and in Europe, then spread across the Atlantic to the Americas, are often taken for granted as if there were never any alternatives. This blind and unquestioning approach has stifled any real discussion about the merits of such an approach, and hidden away knowledge of alternative ideas that once flourished.

European laws originated in the near east, the oldest code we have any detailed knowledge about is that which was written at the time of Ur-Nammu, a king of the Sumerians. The code follows a very simple rule. If you have done something considered ‘wrong’ then there will be punishment. An act that is considered wrong is then designated as a crime, so the pattern becomes ‘for every crime there will be a punishment’. Thus, to the Sumerians rape, murder and robbery were all crimes to be punished by death. Other crime was considered to merit a lesser punishment, kidnapping meant imprisonment and a fine.

The laws of the Hammurabi code go a stage further in the development of law, which can be stated simply as ‘let the punishment fit the crime’. Thus, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a limb for a limb. These laws date back to around 1760 BCE. Stealing often carried the death penalty, depending upon the nature of the theft. Laws that relate to slavery show that enslaving and keeping slaves was not in itself deemed to be a crime. Other laws relate to commerce, but the idea that crime must always be punished is taking shape.

Around 600-500 BCE a set of over six hundred laws was compiled, probably from a number of sources, and set out in Leviticus. These differ slightly from previous codes, some are concerned with faith and worship of a single God, but the mix is interesting. There are many concerned with religious rites, some concerned with marriage and sexual relations, many defined as crime but no indication of the precise punishment, and others (Leviticus 20) where specific punishments are given. Apart from the close resemblance in approach to earlier codes there is something else that is becoming obvious. We are starting to define crime in a way that suggests these are acts that are committed to the detriment of other humans, crimes are committed against people.

Fast forward in history to the life of Christ and we find the first challenge to the idea that every crime must be punished. Murder, adultery and theft were still to be considered as crimes, but the response to those who commit crime was to be forgiveness. We are instructed to ‘love our enemies’ and to forgive ‘seventy times seven’ (Matthew 18:22). A little guidance was given, so that there should be repentance before forgiveness (Luke 17:3). How did the new church respond to such ideas?

Repentance became engulfed in ideas about confession of sins (crimes), often linked with subservience to obey in future, but forgiveness on these terms seems more like a process in acknowledging control and obedience. We also can trace the first white collar / blue collar divisions here, where some sins could mean penance was required, for the rich this simply meant a contribution to the local church. The Catholic church through the Inquisition gave acceptance to both appalling acts of torture and horrific deaths, such as burning alive at the stake. Where the church led then civil law often followed. The church became involved in war, Christian against Muslim, Christian against Christian, and killing became acceptable in spite of denials by some that this contradicted the laws of Jews and Christians.

Something else had also happened across Europe, waves of immigrants and the establishment of territory led to laws that were concerned with land. Land became as asset that could be owned and traded, land could be taken by force in war, so land became a focus for much law. Again, the law demanded punishment if it was broken.

Today we have reached a stage where we are forever defining new laws for new crimes. We are demanding heavier and heavier punishments even when punishment does not seem to reduce crime. We are giving ‘victims’ of crime the opportunity to have a say before sentencing, and this is often a spilling out of grief in the form of demanding the harshest penalty possible. Incarceration and fines are not preventing reoffending, yet we persist with punishment as a means of retribution. Occasionally we get movements concerned with education and rehabilitation, but these are the exception and a baying press still cries out for ‘locking up and throwing away the keys’.

Have we been brainwashed into believing that crime must be punished? Had we had a wider education that explored how other societies dealt with similar ideas would we have adopted other ideas, sought out alternatives, maybe even replaced the ‘western law’ or large chunks of it? I believe that looking at the history of indigenous societies shows that ‘crime’ was often seen differently, as was the response.

Societies made up of a number of smaller groups need to do two things to ensure survival. The first is to have stable relationships within the groups, the second to have a stable relationship with the environment. Laws were made, but often not written down. Instead they might be passed down by song, dance and storytelling. These place importance on how the group lives in harmony with each other and with the environment. Storytelling can show how actions can harm or benefit the group. Teaching in this way to show collective responsibility helps people to consider the consequences of their own behaviour, often called self-regulation. This differs from the coercive ‘western’ approach, with lists of rules that are to be obeyed.

As a simple example, in primary and elementary schools parents and children often receive a list of ‘school rules’ to be obeyed, even including ‘dress codes’ and often potential punishments. The system is being imposed upon them. Left alone even groups of children as young as five or six years will come up with the idea of acceptable behaviour and make rules, they are quite capable of talking about why they need rules and what these should be. Their actions often resemble those of indigenous groups. Suppose children are playing a game and one child breaks a rule, at first a friend might try and tell them why they should play by the rules, if their actions persist then others will also make the point, and if this fails to change behaviour then the child is excluded from the game. Such banishment, even if only temporary, can be a powerful action. In fact, permanent exclusion is very rarely seen among children.

Indigenous societies place a great regard on the first process of discussion of bahaviour, but often the ‘friend’ is an elder who attempts to counsel. They may bring the ‘offender’ before a group to discuss their behaviour and to reason. If all else fails then a form of banishment is a possible outcome.

In the worst form of western law the procedure is very different. An officer of the law will arrest you and you will be charged with breaking the law, and maybe held in a jail until the next stage. You can then appear before a group of people who do not know you and will decide whether you have done wrong and, if so, you will then receive a punishment. The indigenous approach offers help and guidance, the western process is about judgement and punishment.

A judgemental approach would see young people hanging about on streets and blame them for unsocial behaviour, blame them for vandalism, and offer a system of punishment to ‘correct’ their behaviour. An indigenous community based approach would seek to determine why young people are behaving in this way, and to work with them to provide space and activities if that was what was wanted. In the 1960’s I remember being accused, with my friends, of hanging out on the streets which seemed to upset locals. Then a young man, encouraged by his father, set up a coffee bar in the basement of a shop. The problem was solved, we had somewhere to meet and talk. Sometimes the answer is that simple. Later, teaching at a boarding school in Kent, I was involved in providing activities at the weekend. My contribution was helping in rugby and cricket, others looked after Army Cadet groups, participation was more important than competition, although winning also meant a great deal for the boys. The opportunity for sport seems to have declined leaving young people wandering around town centres looking lost.

Another important difference relates to rights, western law assigns rights to humans whilst indigenous law very often assigns rights to other creatures as well as humans, and even to forests and plants. The outcomes are very different, the indigenous approach accepts that to destroy all life by hunting will lead to disaster, they must live side by side with the animals. Similarly, destruction of a habitat would also lead to disaster. So their laws reflect the close links between humans, nature and the environment. There is a further point here, the right to both hunt and to protect is a collective right, the right to access a forest for berries and other fruit is a collective right. Further, it is the right that is held, not ownership.

Contrast this with the approach from western law where land can be owned and becomes an asset. If there are no communal rights then the owner can use the land in ways that either harm or help others. Whole forests can be destroyed to produce a crop for financial gain. Pollutants can be used, along with chemicals to destroy food chains. There is no consideration that such destruction can lead to disaster. Western law has done very little to protect the environment because the emphasis is not on any collective rights.

Many indigenous groups have forms of restorative justice. Very often the system works without an equivalent of a courtroom or prison. The difficulty is that such systems may require the ‘offender’ to effectively plead guilty to acknowledge the wrong that has been done. At this point the process of restoration can begin. There is clearly a resemblance here to the idea of repentance and forgiveness, advocated by many Christians. Bringing together offender and victims sensibly then gives the opportunity to consider the consequences of actions and the reparations that are required, regarded as an holistic approach. The approach is also described as restoring the balance within a community. Contrast this with the western idea of victims being allowed to have their say before sentencing and the different outcomes are obvious.

Western law usually does not require direct restitution to victims, the offender spends time in a jail. In doing so the ‘wrongs’ may be continued in a different way. If the offender is married with a family then these can also suffer and be punished through hardship (perhaps having to rely on benefits) and by being regarded as outcasts in the community. They may suffer the ‘consequences’ whilst the offender has needs of food, clothing and shelter provided by the state.

Whilst an indigenous approach involves the whole community, the western approach tends to ‘contract out’ the work of the community. Social services replace the elders, probation officers replace the community discussion, there is no real consideration of consequences that brings the offender into meaningful contact to those who have suffered, although there have been limited efforts to do this.

Western law has also dabbled with restoration in terms of ‘community service’ as an alternative to short prison sentences although the main argument against this appears to be the cost of such schemes. Compared to incarceration the idea of restoration through community work is a viable alternative, but many argue that the punitive approach of a fine that also brings in money for the state is cheaper than community work. Examining the idea of justice through the lens of finance seems to ignore the purpose of restorative justice and the logic of the indigenous approach.

How might a restorative approach work? One approach might involve local communities identifying projects that require minimal supervision and using local offenders to carry out restoration, this could include gardening at homes for the elderly and similar work. Where an offence seems to be associated with homelessness and unemployment then providing shelter in exchange for work and training might be considered. To adopt such approaches means changing attitudes. In some areas of the United Kingdom instead of a speeding fine and penalty points on a licence, a course was offered at the same cost as the fine, the aim being to get people to think about driving habits and discuss driving habits with others as well as with experienced instructors. The scheme came in for much criticism, but one criticism was that in not having a fine and penalty points there was avoidance of ‘real punishment’. That criticism sums up the difference between restorative and punitive justice. To move towards restorative justice there is a mountain to climb to overcome attitude.

I do not suggest restorative justice would remove the need for any prisons, but that the idea would reduce the need for many prisons, would not cause as much damage to families, and would go some way to prevent reoffending. Where prisons were still used their emphasis would be not on punishment, confining to cells, and limited exercise in overcrowded conditions, but would be as a focus for helping offenders accept consequences, be involved in restoration and reparation, and prepare for a future through better training and assistance once they leave a prison.