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inspiring story 'The two Norries' reveal how they managed to pull themselves out of a life of crime

The Cork natives fell into a world of crime, drug taking and violence before they found their way back from the brink.

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James Leonard and Timmy Long of The Two Norries podcast

James Leonard and Timmy Long of The Two Norries podcast

The Two Norries talk with Nicola Tallant during the podcast.

The Two Norries talk with Nicola Tallant during the podcast.

Nicola Tallant with James Leonard and Timmy Long of The Two Norries podcast

Nicola Tallant with James Leonard and Timmy Long of The Two Norries podcast

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James Leonard and Timmy Long of The Two Norries podcast

In the beautiful setting of the old Elizabeth Fort in Cork City I'm announced as a guest on the new live event hosted by The Two Norries, a podcast duo who have built a huge following with their weekly show.

It is just a few smalls steps on to the stage, but to borrow from the astronaut Neil Armstrong, it's a giant leap for us all as we settle into a meaningful discussion about criminals and what makes them.

James Leonard and Timmy Long could once have graced the ­pages of the Sunday World for all the wrong reasons and I could have written them off as common criminals.

But people grow and evolve. People change. We all do. And this week on the Crime World podcast the pair tell their incredible stories of how childhood traumas led them into a world of crime, drug taking and violence before they found their way back from the brink.

Timmy and James were neighbours in working class north Cork and their mothers were friends but both found themselves taking drugs as troubled schoolboys.

Timmy, who was born in 1981, was brought up by a mother with severe mental health issues who suffered a series of breakdowns when he was just a child, leaving him to look after his two younger brothers.

"There was a lot of violence in my home and I didn't understand it because I had a child's mind. It turned me into an introvert as a person.

"Growing up I was the minder of my mother and I took on the role of a father figure at a young age. School was never something I could focus on. It was a difficult childhood and it produced a teenager who was very violent, who used a lot of alcohol and drugs to give him self-confidence," he says.

There was a really bad recession at the time and he says: "People were actually starving where I came from and there was no work for men or women.

"It was a difficult time and when I look back now as an adult I can see why I grew up to be the person I was."

Surrounded by violence and addiction and with the only role models being dealers or criminals, Timmy began to escape from the realities of life when he was just 10 and started using solvents.

He describes in the interview on Crime World how he 'shut off' from the human race and stopped feeling anything at all. "I had a complete lack of trust or any feelings for others. Understanding now what formed me I realise I didn't have a chance because of my childhood."

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Timmy moved from solvent abuse to taking ecstasy which gave him the first sense of loving and being loved that he had ever experienced.

He quickly became addicted to the tablets and began to rob to pay for drugs.

As a teenager, he was sent to rehabilitation in France but when he returned to his north Cork neighbourhood with no support structure he turned back to drink and drugs, and embarked on a chaotic decade as a feared criminal.

Meanwhile, James had started using drugs too.

When he was 12 years old his father was locked up for seven years.

He says: "I grieved like it was a death. I was going from primary to secondary school at the time and I found it hard to understand.

"I gave up playing sport and started getting into trouble. Everything seemed negative but when I took drugs I felt love and safety."

The early honeymoon with drugs was to be short-lived and James soon found himself addicted to barbiturate prescription medication.

He attended doctors all over Cork city convincing them to give him scripts for tablets which he would either take or sell. One day a dealer offered him a swap - tablets for heroin. Very quickly he was hooked and spent more than 10 years in and out of prison for crimes he did to feed his habit.

"I felt worthless, ashamed and even now when I talk about it I get emotional because it brings me back to that pitiful person I became. I was staying on ­couches, in garden sheds and sleeping wherever I could. I'd end up in prison or rehab but the enormity of the task of recovery was overwhelming for me. I had this feeling of fear when I didn't have drugs," he says.

Timmy says that his worst period was when he started drinking and taking cocaine and steroids, often during lengthy binges. "When I was on them anything could happen and anyone could get hurt.

"I literally didn't care what happened. I had no consideration for any other human being or myself.

"I had a young child at the time but that didn't matter to me.

"The only time my child mattered was at the end of a binge when I would be feeling pity for myself because I couldn't see her.

"My life just went nuts. I wanted to be this big drug dealer but everything I made was going up my nose or over the counter in the bookies or into the till in the pub."

All the while both men were building up a string of convictions, jail sentences and increasingly losing control of their lives. At 27 James was in the most dangerous period of his addiction when he often overdosed on heroin to experience a high.

He woke up one night on Blarney Street with two gardaí and two paramedics standing over him.

He'd been out cold for hours but got up and walked away to buy more drugs. Days later a garda approached him and told him that he'd been one of the two who'd found him the near fatal night. He was kind to him and told him to look after himself and get some help.

"In that moment that interaction meant so much. Within 20 minutes I knew they were right and I looked for help," he ´says.

James got a place in a rehab programme in Carlow in 2012 and never looked back. He has since worked with recovering addicts and in the homeless services.

Last year he got a first class honours Masters degree in Criminology and he is studying for his PhD.

As James made his first steps into recovery he didn't even realise that Timmy was already turning his life around after a 'spiritual awakening' in a police cell in 2011.

He was 31 and already alive one year longer than he ever expected to be at that stage.

"I could never see a future. I always had it in my head that I wouldn't live past 30. I had no ambitions or goals by that point.

"Once upon a time I had wanted to be this big drug dealer who everybody feared. I had grown up in an area with no role model in my family home and none on the streets. I could see the respect the drug dealers and the guys going to prison were getting and I wanted that. I wanted the fast cars.

"But at that point I was taking steroids, I was on cocaine, I was drunk and I had robbed a place and got arrested. I was out on bail and I had broken everything.There was nothing to live for.

"I was arrested and put in a cell and stripped. There had been a big scuffle and I was pepper sprayed.

"I remember lying in the cell and wanting everybody out so I could take the drugs out of my body and snort them. But I couldn't find them. I got off the bed and started crawling around on the cell floor trying to sniff white pieces of paint that had clearly splashed from the ceiling.

"Suddenly the penny dropped. And that was the first bit of awareness I had of what I had become," he says.

Timmy begged wife Nicole for ­another chance and went into ­treatment behind bars, gaining an education, coming off drugs and working with prison psychologists to build himself up. Nine months into his recovery his mother died by suicide in the family home.

All three of her sons were behind bars and couldn't attend her funeral. But Timmy persisted, and, with the support of Nicole managed to stay clean.

Last year, eight years clean, he graduated from Cork Institute of Technology with an honours degree in Construction Management and now runs his own firm.

He hopes to employ people in ­recovery as his business grows.

Both James and Timmy are now inspiring others through their hit podcast The Two Norries, which is being streamed into the Irish prison system.

Each week they interview different guests about trauma, mental health issues, addiction and recovery.

Anyone who wishes to get in touch can do so via their website thetwonorriespodcast.com and they are available on all social media.

You can listen to their interview on Crime World, available wherever you get your podcasts.

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