A REFORMED burglar who ended up living in a dustbin after a life of crime has spoken of how he turned his life around thanks to an approach which is now seeing results in County Durham.
“Twelve years ago, I lived in a dustbin. That is where my life of sex, drugs, rock n roll and crime got me – rock bottom and living in a bin," said Peter Woolf, who spent most of his life as a career criminal.
Born into an East London family with significant crime credentials, he was on drugs by 11 and in and out of prison for decades.
Last week, he shared his story at the Safer Durham Partnership’s Restorative Approaches conference in a bid to spread the word about the life-changing potential of restorative justice, which allows victims of crime to communicate with offenders.
It was meeting two of his victims that gave the prolific offender and heroin addict the impetus to break free from drugs and crime – he has been clean ever since.
During a prison sentence for a violent robbery, he was invited to meet his victim Will Riley and an unnamed heart and lung surgeon he robbed on another occasion.
He said: “Before then, if you’d asked me where I’d be in five years, I’d say dead and I would have welcomed that.
“I was a shark. I’d get up in the morning, my fin would go up and I’d go into the streets and take what I wanted and if you got in my way, tough – I didn’t care about myself so why would I care about you?"
But he added: “Then I met Will Riley and he sat crying and telling me how his nine-year-old daughter had to see her hero dad, covered in blood and being put into an ambulance.
“The doctor I robbed could never set foot in his house again and had to sell it. When I came along and smashed his window, I smashed his life to pieces too."
Mr Woolf sold the doctor’s laptop for a £10 bag of heroin without knowing it contained valuable research documents and details of patients awaiting surgery.
The surgeries had to be delayed, potentially putting lives in danger.
“It hit me that I could’ve been responsible for people’s deaths," he said.
“Suddenly I understood what I had been doing and how much pain I’d caused.”
Mr Woolf’s victims asked him to get clean, get educated and write to them – promises he kept.
He now tours the country as a motivational speaker and proponent of restorative justice, often working alongside Mr Riley.
For more about Mr Woolf and Mr Riley’s story, visit restorativejustice.org.uk/resource/the_woolf_within__peter__wills_story/