Our good friend the former convict

Criminologist Kathy Curran wanted to practise what she preaches – so she invited a repeat offender into her home. They say it's led to a unique and lasting bond

Kathy Curran always checks the doors and windows before leaving her smart home just north of London. "I know all about security," she laughs. "I've been trained by the best." By the best, she means Brian, a career criminal who has spent nearly 30 years inside. She and Brian have formed an unlikely but remarkable alliance over the past eight years. It has culminated in his looking after her children and even going on holiday with her and her husband.

Kathy, a criminologist with a doctorate from Cambridge, specialises in the rehabilitation of repeat offenders. A brief spell in the Probation Service convinced her this wasn't the way to build up trust and really make a difference. She says you need to spend time with people, have a drink and a chat in the pub, take them shopping.

"Once you've established trust, people are more receptive and more likely to listen to advice."

The theory is one thing, but inviting a criminal into your home is quite another. "Getting that first job is key," she continues, "but in reality no one wants to employ an ex-offender. That's why I decided to do just that."

Determined to practise what she preached, she visited New Life, an organisation (now sadly defunct due to lack of funding) that helped former prisoners to learn the skills they'd need to gain employment. It was here that she first met Brian (not his real name). Eight years later , she's never looked back.

"He was very smartly dressed in a matching suit and tie, with polished shoes and slicked-back hair. But he looked really nervous, too," she recalls. "I told him I wanted him to come and paint the outside of my house."

"This was my first chance to earn clean money," Brian chips in. "I'd had it drummed into me that if I worked and paid taxes, I was a mug. Going out to earn money, before, meant I never knew if I'd make it home in the evening. So I felt utter relief when Kathy offered me this chance and I grabbed it with both hands."

Brian, now 50, reels off an impressive A-to-Z of his past offences – shoplifting, fraud, drug dealing, armed robbery ("just till money"), and "creeping". For the uninitiated, this is when you dress up as a window cleaner, for example, go into a commercial property and pilfer from people's coats and desks.

But by the time he was in his early forties, something was beginning to change. Grandchildren were being born and Brian hated it when they came to visit him in prison.

"It brought a tear to my eye, and I didn't want them growing up and ending up in my shoes," he tells me. "And something began working in the old grey cells that wasn't working before."

Poignantly, Kathy was also pregnant with her first child at the time. And although she never doubted her decision, the same could not be said of her husband, Charles, who positively blanched when she told him that an ex-offender was coming to paint the house.

Brian laughs: "He used to give me really funny looks when he came home from work. I think he was as unsure as I was about the situation."

Kathy continues: "After a month, I left Brian in my house alone as a kind of test. I knew he'd gone into my bedroom when I came home, as I'd closed all the doors. He said, 'But Kath, I've never been in such a posh house before!'"

She adds: "It didn't take my children long to realise he has a good heart, either. They are thick as thieves now and absolutely adore him. I know I can leave them with him any time."

Brian was born into a criminal family and grew up on a deprived estate in south London. All his school friends and their families were criminals of one kind or another.

His journey back from the criminal underworld has meant overcoming a number of hurdles. Opening a bank account was one of the first. He had only magistrates' letters as proof of identity, and when Kathy dragged him to a building society on Holborn high street, Brian panicked, turned to her and said, "God, Kath, last time I was here, I robbed the place!"

He procrastinated for years about getting a passport, but when Kathy invited him on holiday with her and Charles, he had no choice.

"I'd spent my whole life avoiding being identified, so I couldn't understand why I needed one, and I had to pay money for the bloody thing to boot," he says.

He'd never been abroad before, let alone on an aircraft. "He spent most of the flight cowering in the aisle at the back outside the toilets," Kathy says, "but once he'd had a taste of sun and sea, he loved it.

"We had a newborn baby by this time," she continues, "and we were knackered, and Brian, being used to prison hours, would be up at five playing with him and giving him his milk till I came down at six."

"I began to appreciate family life," Brian says. "It was a revelation to me. They showed me a way to live I'd never seen before. Most kids get a pat on the back when they come home from school with a gold star. All I got from my dad was a clout round the head and he'd say, 'Well, that ain't gonna earn you money now, is it?' But if I told him I'd nicked a lorry-load of stuff and sold it to the guy up the road for £300 he'd say, 'That's the way to go, boy.' That's how I was brought up."

Brian's journey going straight started back in 2004 and has taken enormous commitment to kick the habits of a lifetime. Over the years, Kathy and her husband have encouraged him to pass his driving test so he could buy a van and build up his gardening-and-decorating business. He still paints many people's houses in that same street.

"I've learnt social skills, too," he says, "and I know how to deal with situations in a rational way. I don't go off my head any more. I know there's always an alternative to violence. I've learnt family values and I realise you can create a good life for your children, even in deprived areas. I know you can work your way out of that without being a monstrous nightmare to society."

Brian continues to live on the same estate, but has nothing to do with anyone from his past. His partner has also begun to see the benefits of going straight. They share a lovely flat together paid for with "clean" money and which is their own to enjoy.

Kathy says helping Brian is the most important thing she has ever done in her life, but the benefits go both ways.

"He's a huge support to me, too. He helps with the kids all the time, he does lots of jobs round the house, and I know I can always rely on him."

"Everything's different now," Brian says. "We've got a fridge full of food, we have a nice home, and I have my van, my work and, most of all, my self-respect."

He adds: "In the end, my perseverance paid off, but that's because I really wanted that change to happen. If someone doesn't want to change, no amount of patience and persuasion can bring them round."

Kathy explains: "You can't just leave people when you've started them on a difficult path. You have to take the time to trust, encourage and nurture them. Brian is still the same person, but he now uses his entrepreneurial skills, his resilience and coping strategies in a positive way. It's a hard sell, though, and takes strength of character."

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    E-Commerce Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice