Caroline Shearer: Working to change attitudes
A powerful and emotional meeting between the mother of a teenage murder victim and a prisoner serving a life sentence for a fatal stabbing took place during the PCC’s community safety conference on Wednesday January 14, 2015.
Caroline Shearer’s 17-year-old son, Jay Whiston, was murdered in Colchester on September 8, 2012. Caroline has since founded the weapons awareness charity Only Cowards Carry which works extensively with young people and schools across Essex to combat the horrors of knife crime.
At the conference, where a major theme was partnership working to reduce re-offending, the serving prisoner spoke about his nine years of working with and listening to other offenders in prison, and his strong desire to try to prevent other people causing harm by making bad choices and lifestyle decisions.
Caroline asked the serving offender a series of questions during the open conference session, and then in a quiet room continued a powerful and heartfelt face-to-face conversation. Caroline probed the serving prisoner’s reasons for wanting to help others, and the impact of his crime upon the victim’s family. The prisoner replied that in talking with other offenders about their crimes and how they had come to commit them, he felt he was able to connect and sometimes change their attitudes. He had reached a point in his life where he realised how badly he had let himself and others down through his actions.
Caroline said that her overriding aim with Only Cowards Carry was to prevent horrendous acts, like the murder of her son Jay, from happening again. She understood that as a convicted murderer, the man had a deep understanding of the consequences of a gang lifestyle, of street violence and of the personal impact of a long prison sentence.
Caroline said: “Every day is hell for my family and me. My heart wonders if I’m betraying Jay by even speaking with convicted prisoners. My head says that we must do everything we can to changes attitudes and prevent young people from getting involved in reckless and dangerous lifestyles. The single most important thing is to prevent senseless tragedies such as the murder of Jay from happening again.”
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex: “Caroline Shearer has shown exceptional courage and strength in speaking to the convicted murderer. Her desire and commitment to change attitudes among young people inspires me and inspires others.
“The meeting between Caroline and the serving prisoner is a very powerful demonstration of the importance of bringing people from all backgrounds together to understand how tragedies happen and how we can prevent them in the future.”