Over the years I have received many letters in response to my articles. None has been as moving and passionate and, beneath the formal failings of English, as intelligent, as this one, written in reponse to a column I wrote about crime in the Independent on 4 February.

Bob (not his real name) is 26 and has more than 40 convictions to his name. Born into a family of nine in north London, he was inducted into crime by his father, who would take him out of school to send him on thieving expeditions in the West End.

From the age of 10, he spent 15 years locked in the criminal system, in and out of a variety of penal institutions and surviving on the street. By the age of 25 he was on drugs and apparently far beyond redemption.

He had done some legitimate work. His fragmentary education at primary level had revealed an aptitude for maths and he had managed to turn himself into a computer expert. But invariably the jobs went wrong and he went back to the only life he really knew.

Finally, his ex-girlfriend's mother persuaded him to join an organisation that helps and counsels the families of criminals and drug users. Bob began to analyse the street life that had enfolded him since childhood. Street people, he says, are always judging others, never themselves. He began to learn to judge himself.

In the process, he saw the deprivation he had suffered. He is an intelligent man frustrated by his lack of education. He took to reading - lying around his flat are copies of the Guardian, the Independent and the Times Literary Supplement. He became convinced that crime was not understood, and obsessed that amid all the words that were being flung about, nobody was listening.

Determined to use his own experience to help understanding of crime, he is writing his life story. 'I want to try to be a voice for the people of the street.'

If you wish to contact Bob, write to him c/o the Independent's Features Department, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB, and we will forward your mail.

Dear Mr Appleyard,

I write regarding your article in the Independent, 'Not paranoid? You're crazy]' and ask what went wrong?

My personal views from my own life's experiences tell me the Tory Government are obviously part of the blame.

Firstly, I would like to tell you a bit about myself. I was brought up in Hackney, east London, born 1966 (26 years old). I come from a family of nine (3 sisters and 5 brothers). I went into a children's home at the age of 10 with one of my younger brothers, and went on from there to crime for the next 15 years. Parents didn't know how to teach us about life because they were not aware themselves. I have been through loads of institutions including detention centres, Borstal, youth custody, prison, and through the courts, right up to the Old Bailey, for many burglaries, thieving. Of all the places I went into, not one of them taught me about life.

Now, getting back to 'What went wrong?' I put this down to a number of things, personally. Three things for me:

1. My parents were innocent about life.

2. The places we had been in had no rehabilitation.

3. I wasn't aware of life to start to build anything for myself, to get any foundation, so all I knew was how to make a quick pound note because that was easy to steal.

The detention centre is meant to be a short sharp shock. It was for me for the first two days. Then I was in with all the other young offenders - again I state 'no rehab' so DC and the so-called 'short, sharp shock' didn't affect me. I carried on stealing.

You say that individuals must be held utterly responsible for their criminal acts. Yes, I agree to a certain extent. Only when the individual is fully aware of the damage caused not just to the victims, but also to themselves. Let me explain:

There is a missing link between upper and lower class people. Upper class people know how to communicate and listen, and acknowledge what has been said. Now, I was, well, and still am at the moment, lower class - sorry, working class. Now you say, well, working or lower class know how to listen. No] They hear what is being said, but none of it has any meaning because young petty criminals have the attitude not to listen and even though they hear what is being said, they do not take it in because they don't know how to put any meaning behind it, and if they do, then they know it will be too much hard work on their behalf, and therefore go into denial.

This is where I state that if we were taught in schools from a young age about our own personal selves then, yes, maybe we will become better people, and this is where I feel that unless some kind of rehabilitation centre is put into the prisons and taught, the prisoner will come back on to the street with the same attitude as when he or she went in.

Where does the Government come in? All they do is talk of MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. They are meant to be setting an example for the British people and all we hear is that our schools and hospitals are going to be closed because of lack of funds.

What a load of bullshit. They can soon find pounds 10bn to try to save the pound or for the Gulf War. I think to get back our 'Great Britain' we will all have to stop protecting money as our main concern and start to look at the people in the country.

The bottom line about the criminal is, they know it's too much hard work to start to build a foundation, and so turn to petty crime to make a quick pound note, because that's all the inner-city petty crooks know. I know, I was one of them.

I have decided to write my own life story and how it has come to me about communication at a late part of my life. Maybe it will take a generation to start again, but I have taken a good look at my life and I now know I need to change, not for the Government, or any of my friends or my family, but for my own personal growth.

I also think it would definitely help on this issue if the Left and Right wings came together because they both have good views and bad views. At the end of the day we all need to confront this issue.

Many thanks for taking the time out to read my letter. Sorry about my English and writing. I am trying.

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