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Page last updated at 08:00 GMT, Tuesday, 13 July 2010 09:00 UK
The life of a lifer

By Danny Shaw
Today programme

An inmate in prison

In 1990 Paul Brown was jailed for murder. He attacked his victim with an iron bar during a burglary.

He was 25 when he was convicted - the culmination of a decade of alcohol abuse and crime.

He confessed to the murder immediately and got what he "deserved", he says - a life sentence for murder.

Doing time

Waiting in the cell following his arrest, two police officers at the open door and nowhere to hide, became a turning point in his life.

"That's where somebody is going to make the decision whether they liked what they were and whether they were going got change the way they were or stick with it," says Paul, whose name has been changed to protect his identity.

With the minimum jail term set at 15 years, and mandatory courses on alcohol abuse and anger management, there was certainly time for him to change.

"Something happens in your mind. You stop looking forward, and you live for the day," he says of the jail term.

"It's almost like a mental switch gets flicked in your mind and you are somehow able to cope with it."


After successfully adjusting to an open prison, in February 2005 Paul Brown appeared before the Parole Board.

13,000 prisoners are serving life sentences or indeterminate sentences in England and Wales
Of 1,600 lifers under active probation supervision in England and Wales in 2008 to 2009, 89 were recalled to prison
SOURCE: MoJ / Parole Board

That year only a quarter of lifers who were eligible for release were let out. Paul was one of them.

"I had a friend who came up and who picked me up from the prison gates. He said shut-up, sit down - here, have a cigar. Blow the smoke out of the window and don't look back. And that's exactly what I did," he says.

"The not looking back I think was important to me, 'cos I didn't want to see that any more - not over my shoulder and certainly not driving towards the gates again."

As a lifer on licence he is under supervision by the probation service. They approve where he lives, works and travels.

His long term partners have to talk to his probation officer, to check Paul has told them about his crime.

While he is not forced to tell friends what he has done, it usually comes out in conversation.

"I think I have possibly been lucky, I've never had a negative reaction," he says.

"It's always seems to have been - you've paid for your crime, you've spent a long time away, you seem ok".

Never forget

His conviction, however, is never out of sight. In one incident, Paul reported his partner missing after she failed to return from a night out. He was immediately arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murder.

I went from being dad to Paul. And that was hard. When your own daughter calls you by your first name

"I'm in the cell again with the police officer outside the door and it almost takes you right back," he says.

"I'd actually made the decision in my mind that I was going away again and that I'd lost everything and I hadn't actually done anything - which was a novel experience for me."

The charges were dropped the next day when his partner was found, but the reminder was clear.

"There's always that big thing over your head. The licence never really goes away. And you can't shut your mind off to that bit."


Paul Brown's rehabilitation has gone well and now, at 45, he is in work - though currently off sick - and in a long-term, stable relationship.

The probation service will shortly apply to the Ministry of Justice to lift his supervision requirements.

"The person you're talking to now is a totally different person to the person back then," he told me.

"That person doesn't really exist any more. Only somewhere in the memory. Not a likeable person".

He gives much of the credit for this change to the programmes he had to take part in while in prison.

"A lot of people get frustrated when they can't express how they feel," he says.

"Even if you only pick up one little detail out of the entire course, then it's worth it. If you can explain to somebody how you feel instead of flying off the handle then you're a winner.

"You're not going to go down the line that you would have done 10, 15, 20 years ago."

But despite his successful return to society, he says he will never forget his crime.

"That's something that will be in the mind for the rest of your life and it is only respectful that it is," he says.

"I mean, the person no longer exists as a direct result of your actions - you can't push that part away and nor should you try."

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