03/03/2016 11:17 GMT | Updated 04/03/2017 05:12 GMT

One Punch Changed My Life - But Meeting My Victim's Parents Brought Me Back From the Brink


Standing outside the room my palms were clammy, I had pins and needles in my face and could feel nausea rising from my stomach. I stalled - I couldn't go through the door.

I took a moment to compose myself, sucked in a deep breath and tried to come to terms with what I was about to do.

All those months in prison flashed through my mind, as well as the moment I threw the punch that changed our lives.

Walking in and meeting Joan and David, the parents of 28-year-old James Hodgkinson who I killed with a single punch, was something I needed to do. I knew how important it was for me to tell them how sorry I was face to face.

Another deep breath and I opened the door.

The last two years of correspondence had led to this moment. Many questions had already been answered through our exchange of letters but I knew they would have more to ask.

It was the first time that they had talked about James' personality and his zest for life. Their sadness crushed me. I now understood how my actions had impacted upon them.

It still feels a bit weird to be honest - it was such a powerful experience. It's all a bit of a blur when I look back on it, but I can remember asking afterwards how long the meeting was. I thought it had been about 15 minutes - I'm sure it was over an hour.

I felt like I owed them a thank you as well as an apology. That sounds odd, but if they hadn't had the courage to come forward and ask me to take part in Restorative Justice I would most likely be in prison, or worse.

It wasn't until secondary school that my behaviour became problematic. I was diagnosed with ADHD which impacted massively on my school work. I was mixing with people in the same situation as me.

I felt like my teachers didn't have a great deal of belief in me, I was told that I wouldn't amount to anything in life and I think a little part of me truly believed that.

At age 15, having been excluded from two schools, I made the decision not to show up for my GCSEs.

My friends and I began to develop what I now see as negative beliefs, such as always having each other's back, viewing authority and the law negatively and not snitching.

We'd go out drinking, on the streets because we were underage. You'd see another group of lads from similar backgrounds and it would often lead to violence.

Fighting was seen as something that gained your reputation and made you look a bit harder in front of your friends.

I remember it was sunny on the day of the incident. We had started drinking early, we were on the champagne, then mixing that with vodka. By the time it was eight or nine o'clock we were drunk and on our way into town.

I'd had a call to say things were kicking off so I went to see what was going on. I could see a friend of mine was squaring off with someone who I now know was James.

That's when I punched him.

I didn't even know why I was hitting him, but that wasn't important at the time. He hit the floor and I fled the scene not realising the implications of my actions.

The sad thing is, it was seen as just another fight among my group of friends. That punch was nothing unusual for us.

It wasn't until a month later, after I'd been on holiday that the police came knocking. I wasn't home so my mum let them in. I had a call asking me to go down to the station so I handed myself in not really knowing at the time what I had done.

That's when the words hit me like a ton of bricks, 'We are arresting you on suspicion of murder.' Words that still haunt me to this day.

That's when your life really flashes before your eyes. It felt like every single emotion mixed into one - except happiness.

I was sat in a cell with nothing but my own thoughts for company. What had I done with my life? Although I didn't think I would amount to much, I wanted more than this.

It soon became clear that some of my friends had told the police that it was me who threw the punch. This was hard to come to terms with as it was clear amongst me and my friends that talking to the Police was just something we didn't do.

For the first time in my life I had realised that all those things I believed in didn't really have any meaning. They weren't important and it seemed, I'd been living a lie.

I was sentenced to two and half years for manslaughter.

While in custody, I told my story to other prisoners and they'd be shocked about my friends, not about what had actually happened - that I'd killed an innocent man.

I became bitter and hateful. I felt like I was the victim in this and hadn't really for one moment considered anyone else.

I came out of custody a lot worse off than when I went in. I was selfish, frustrated and angry. Definitely not rehabilitated by my time inside.

The moment that everything changed for me was when I went to see my probation officer and she said, 'Have you ever heard of something called restorative justice?'

I shook my head, not really having a clue what she meant by it. Little did I know that it would be the turning point in my life.

My probation officer had been contacted by an organisation called Remedi. They had been approached by James' parents who had requested the opportunity to have some communication with me.

They needed answers about the incident and I was the only person who could provide those answers. It was then when I realised that it wasn't about me any more. I wasn't the victim in all of this.

When I look back to my teenage years I can't quite believe how different life is now. Restorative justice gave me the opportunity to see the other side and it has made me a better person because of it.

I decided to give education another shot and I'm now studying criminology at university which would have been unthinkable before. I knew that I not only owed it to myself, I owed it to my victim and my victim's family to do well. There's no going back now.

David and Joan have unknowingly saved my life. From letters, to meeting in person they have given me the motivation to take responsibility and make something of myself.

We agreed that we'd like to do some work together in raising awareness of how one punch can kill in the hope that it will prevent anyone else going through the same thing.

Through sharing my story I hope to give courage to younger people that are going through the same thing and have the same struggles. If I can get through to at least one person then I would feel like I've done what I need to do.

I went into this process I didn't expect to gain anything. I thought I would just be answering a few questions. To be where I am today and to have been supported in the way that I have - I still have to pinch myself because it's changed everything. It's changed my life completely.

Jacob's story features in Meeting My Enemy: Tonight on ITV at 7.30pm this evening