A Former heroin addict has turned his life around by becoming a priest.

Irvine man Darren Howie spent 19 years taking and selling drugs and more than a decade in and out of prison before finding God and using his experiences to help people in similar situations.

The 43-year-old grew up on an Irvine council estate and says what started as a bit of fun, quickly spiralled in to a way of life.

He told the Times: “I was brought up in Seaton Terrace. We were all into the rave scene and taking recreational drugs. I had friends who took drugs and grew out of it, but I have an addictive personality and what started out as solvent abuse progressed to eventually becoming a heroin addict.”

Darren’s drug habit inevitably landed him in jail numerous times, until the final time, 14 years ago when someone reached out to offer him help.

He said: ”The last time I was in prison was 2004 and that time it was for something I hadn’t actually done. I was genuinely innocent. The prison chaplain came to see me and told me I needed to do something to change my life or I was going to die. After that conversation, in the space of three weeks I had got out of jail, tried to hang myself and then became a Christian.”

The prison chaplain had directed Darren to the Teen Challenge programme which supports people with addiction problems and encourages them to go drug free through Christianity. He said: “I spent a year there and rebuilt my life. I came back to Scotland and became heavily involved with the South Beach Baptist Church in Saltcoats.”

However back in Irvine Darren found himself slipping back into old habits and decided to make a clean break, moving to Nottinghamshire where he studied English and Social Care Alevels before enrolling in University to complete a BA Honours degree in Practical Theology followed by a Masters Degree.

He said: “When I was at school no one saw any potential in me. I was difficult to deal with as a child so I just got chucked out. I was expelled from Woodlands Primary,then Castlepark. By Primary 6 I was shipped off to a children’s home and spent my teenage years there. I went to Ravenspark and Greenwood Academies and got chucked out of both.

“But through Teen Challenge and my work at the South Beach Baptist Church I realised I had a brain and I loved studying.”

Darren is now involved with the Inside Out rehab programme through his role as Reverend at St Peter’s Church in Derby, where he now lives with his wife Jo and three young children.

He also has a 23-year-old son who still lives in Scotland.

He admits: “I hurt a lot of people so there will be some people who I can’t expect forgiveness from. My family are really proud of me now but I put my mother through hell, but she has her son back now.”

Darren is now committed to helping those who are on the same path he once was.

He said: “No one says when they’re a wee boy, ‘When I grow up I want to be a smack head’. I met an old school teacher and she actually apologised to me and said 'I am sorry, we treated you like an animal’ which really resonated with me. I was a difficult child and no one knew what to do with me so they just wanted rid.

“Everyone has capability and potential, it’s just finding a way for them to get out of the darkness and see it in themselves.”