Steve is black, in his mid-thirties, and wears a black beret. What he doesn't wear is the swagger and look of guarded mistrust that sometimes go with it. I asked him if he had changed physically since he came to the Everyman. He laughed and admitted that, two years ago, when he first came through the door, he wouldn't even have been able to sit with his legs crossed. It would have been unmanly.

Steve is a pseudonym. He did not want to tell me his real name because he has a responsible job working with young people and a history of violence would not look good on his record. In fact, violence has been part of his life since he was born.

'I was beaten as a child by my father and I remember watching my parents argue and fight. When my mother was pregnant with my sister, my father kicked her down the stairs. I hated him for it. When I was 14 they finally divorced and I hated her, too. I was a very angry teenager. I got chucked out of school and ended up angry and violent on the streets instead.'

It could have been the classic pattern: misery, school failure, low self-esteem, violence, crime and then prison. For many of his friends it was only that, but at 21, he woke up and tried to come to terms with his life.

He nearly succeeded, doing training in youth work, and then meeting a woman who was different from anyone he had known before: confident, independent and articulate. Unfortunately, the changes he had made did not go nearly deep enough to deal with the internal damage of his childhood. As stress built up on the outside, anger grew on the inside, and he found he was repeating his father's behaviour.

'She was a very confident person, while I was not. She came from a totally different background and found it easy to talk about her feelings. As a boy I had learnt no way of expressing my feelings. If you aren't able to articulate your frustration verbally, or control or understand your emotions, you resort to whatever is available, and men learn to respond with violence. Fathers are violent to their sons, men are violent to each other. It's a law that is never challenged. I had no way of expressing my feelings, or my hurt, so I lashed out.

'The violence of our conflict was destroying our relationship. I had never been violent to a woman before and this relationship meant more to me than any other had done. I was desperate for it to work out but, when we argued, I knew of no other way to react - I would hit out. I was horrified at myself. Horrified at my three children witnessing it. It would dig up my own childhood memories, and the sound of my own mother screaming. The worst thing is knowing that you are hitting someone you love.' For three years the violence went on.

'When I came home from work my children would go silent. They were intimidated by me. Not because I hit them (I would never have done that), but because of my anger and my whole personal interaction with them which was, to be honest, non existent. I had never had a real relationship with my parents. My dad worked shifts and slept during the day. I just didn't know how to be with my children. When I finally contacted the Everyman I had reached rock bottom. I really hated myself.'

'I have learnt so much here. For the first time in my life I started to look at issues which had been buried, but it wasn't just a talking shop. The programme gave me a feasible strategy. A way of improving my relationship and myself.

'It gave me back my self-confidence and self-respect and I took it all back home and rebuilt our relationship. It's my children who are the main indicator of how much I have changed. They are growing towards me. We play together. Everything is totally different. It is two years since I hit my partner and I would like to believe that she knows that I would never do it again.'

Perhaps the proof of that lies in the fact that a year ago she stopped being his partner and agreed to become his wife.

The Everyman Centre, 30a Brixton Road, London SW9 6BU (071-793 0255). The Everyman helpline (071-793 0155), Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7.30pm to 10pm.

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