Recruited From The Gutter
This trope is about characters who work for or with someone who (and often because they) saved them from a life of crime, poverty or another situation with bleak prospects. With heroic (or neutral) characters, this reinforces how close the two of them are. With villains, it serves to establish a Villainous Friendship
or to explain why the Mook Lieutenant
or The Dragon
is so loyal despite working for a Bad Boss
(or demonstrate that the villain isn't - or wasn't
- so bad).
The trope can also be treated more cynically (especially with villains). The sponsor might have an ulterior motive
, or simply be extremely patronising and insincere; possibly even abusive (or both if the sponsor is helping because they feel they owe them
). A particularly nasty villain might even recruit their mooks
this way (with the implication they're preying on the vulnerable). Heroes should be aware that the rescued character might be loyal enough
to end up Avenging the Villain
. Conversely, the rescued character might be a Token Evil Teammate
or Poisonous Friend
, thanks to the habits from their old life, in which case their reformation will factor into their Character Development
(especially if they were recruited by The Messiah
N.B. This doesn't include characters who were only rescued by a Good Samaritan
work for/with them (although they might decide to invoke this trope and work for their benefactor later) or characters who were happy with their life but joined up for their own reasons after having a more immediate problem solved (that falls under Recruitment By Rescue
Compare; Changeling Fantasy
, Better Living Through Evil
, Defeat Means Friendship
(if the character in question was antagonistic at first), My Master, Right or Wrong
(if this is the reason a good character is in league with a villain), Because You Were Nice to Me
, Satisfied Street Rat
and The One Who Made It Out
. If an entire team's formed this way, you'll have a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
. Contrast Boxed Crook
(who's employment is their punishment). For characters who were rescued from more acute danger see I Owe You My Life
and/or Recruitment By Rescue
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Anime and Manga
- On Soul Eater it's revealed that the Thompson sisters were originally criminals before Death the Kid recruited them as his weapons. Liz originally planned to take Kid for a ride, but relented when she realised how happy Patty was now they finally had a home.
- Chibodee Crocket of Mobile Fighter G Gundam recruited his entire support team this way; they were Street Urchins who'd been caught trying to stowaway on a spaceship just as he walked by. Apparently they had a glint in their eyes which reminded him of himself.
- Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine shows Oscar's backstory, where Inspector Zenigata rescued him from the gutters. Afterwards, Oscar became very dedicated to helping him.
- In One Piece:
- Robin was a criminal who asked Luffy for a place on the crew instead of the other way around (Luffy's usual MO). At first it appeared they were just the latest in a long string of criminals she'd associated herself with, but it turns out that she'd been on the lam for 20 years and this was the first time she felt like she had a "home".
- Shiliew is bored to death with Impel Down prison and, when the Blackbeard Pirates broke in, he asked them to join their crew, and they let him in.
- Luffy specifically recruited Nami to free her from Arlong's rule. That, and he needed a navigator.
- In Naruto, Kimimaro was the lone survivor of his clan as the result of severe infighting. Orochimaru showed up and offered him a new life, as well as being the first not to discriminate against him (because of his freaky powers). It is implied that Orochimaru recruited his other henchmen this way, too, but only Kimimaro shows a high amount of loyalty because of this.
- In Kodomo no Omocha, Rei is literally begging on the streets when Sana finds him and brings him home with her to be her "boy toy" (of course Sana has no idea what being a boy toy actually entails). After that he works he works for Sana's mother as Sana's combination manager/bodyguard/nanny/father figure.
- In Gundam Build Fighters, Aila was "rescued" as a poverty stricken orphan by Nine Barthes, who treats her less than pleasantly. Later Reiji rescues her from him and she goes to Arian with him in the finale.
- Batman: In some versions of the origin of Robin II, Jason Todd was a street urchin that tried stealing the wheels off the Batmobile. Bruce Wayne takes him as his ward and trains him up as his new sidekick.
- In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indy relates how he first met his Kid Sidekick, Short Round, when the latter was a street orphan trying to pick his pocket. Short Round's loyalty saves him from "the black sleep of Kali Ma" later in the film.
- In the second The Matrix film, The Kid wants to serve on the Nebuchadnezzar with Neo (who helped him escape from the Matrix), which he'll soon be old enough to do. However, Neo defies the trope:
Neo: I told you, Kid, you found me, I didn't find you.
Kid: I know, but you got me out! You saved me!
Neo: You saved yourself.
- The Star Wars prequels reveal that this is how Anarkin Skywalker became a Jedi; the second act of the first is basically devoted to freeing him from slavery so he can be trained as a Jedi.
- An unusual example in Batman Begins. Ra's al Ghul finds Bruce Wayne in a Third World prison and sets him on the path to becoming Batman, though they ultimately betray each other.
- Played for Laughs in Happy Gilmore, where Happy's caddy is a homeless man he hires (who eats the crackers Happy sets down to mark his ball). After the events of the film, he hires him full time as a butler.
- In Sir Terry Pratchett's Dodger, the title character is a street urchin and scavenger from the sewers who lives on his wits. His realisation that there are better things in life, and his introduction to morals and principles, comes first from an old Jewish craftsman, who adopts him, and later from Charles Dickens. Who finds him engagingly interesting.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Smuggler Davos Seaworth delivered a lifesaving ration of onions to Stannis Baratheon while his fortress was under siege and starving. As repayment, the lawful Stannis raised him to knighthood and shortened the fingers of his left hand to punish him for his smuggling. Davos remains one of Stannis' most loyal servants.
- This is also a standard method of recruitment for the Night's Watch. The recruits are given a new life, a cleaned reputation and good military training, but their living conditions and regulations make the deal somewhat sour.
- The Stand: Lloyd Henried is in prison when the super-flu hits. He winds up the only survivor in this prison. He would have starved to death in his cell if the Anti Christ Randall Flagg hadn't rescued him. Because of this, he remains Flagg's most loyal follower.
- Talen from The Elenium starts out as a street thief and is brought into the travelling group by Sparhawk after Annias finds out he's been spying on his behalf. He later ends up a royal page (and Pandion novice-to-be) in the Tamuli. Although at least part of Sparhawk's motive is to keep Kurik's son safe.
- Antonina in the Belisarius Series was a courtesan who married the Roman general of the title, thus becoming "respectable" (and occasionally joining him on campaigns). She later used her husband's reputation as well as her own intelligence to become a great stateswoman.
- Sgt Bothari from Vorkosigan Saga was an Ax-Crazy slum orphan who entered the Barrayaran Imperial Service to find someone to control his violent impulses. Later he was used as a minion by a sadist to torture prisoners, until he refused to torture Cordelia Naismath, the heroine, and killed his master. When Cordelia married a Barrayaran aristocrat Bothari became an honoured bodyguard.
- In "Seas of Fortune", Henrique Pereira da Costa's friend and assistant Mauricio was his father's slave. On his inheriting his father's estate, Henrique immediately freed him and employed him as an equal.
- In the original story Gretchen was rescued from being a Sex Slave by the Grantsville Army and marries a soldier, gaining a reputation as a Rabble Rouser.
- Alinadar of The Red Vixen Adventures was a Child Soldier Space Pirate recruited at the age of six after pirates murdered her family. After being left for dead after a failed raid, the pirate she'd been attacking took her in to help restore a measure of her sanity and re-socialize her.
- In Circle of Magic, Niko Goldeye rescues street urchin Briar from being sent to hard-work in the quarries, having recognised his magical potential.
Live Action TV
- One Victim of the Week on CSI: New York was an up-and-coming musician who was a homeless drug addict until his girlfriend and her band took him in. It turns out that they'd been invoking this trope; rescuing a drug addict to join their band and arranging a relapse/overdose when their life insurance had "matured" enough to give them a big payout.
- In the original pilot of The Big Bang Theory Sheldon & Leonard take in a recently homeless woman and decide to reform her. She goes along with it mostly because she has nothing better going on in her life.
- In Nikita, Division recruits young runaways, criminals and/or junkies and gives them a second chance in exchange for Undying Loyalty. Alex is a downplayed example; Nikita rescued her only because she was the one inadvertently responsible for Alex's situation. Alex then volunteered to infiltrate Division since they had her parents killed.
- Subverted in a Season X episode of Red Dwarf, when Rimmer, pretending to be a Space Corps captain, introduces his brother Howard to the crew:
Rimmer: When we found Kryten, he was a burnt-out wreck of a junkie.
Howard: And you rebuilt him, gave him something to live for?
Rimmer: No, we just hosed him down and gave him a hat.
- Grimm: A Bad Guy of the Week recruits homeless young women, dresses them in fine clothes, then sends them out to shoplift from high-end fashion boutiques.
- In Seven Days Frank is recruited/drafted into the Backstep program from a military mental institution because he's the only person they could find on short notice who proved able to pilot the Sphere.
- On Gang Related part of the premise is that Ryan Lopez was protected from the violence and poverty of his neighbourhood by Javier Acosta, the leader of the local Los Angelicos street gang after being orphaned. As a result Ryan has Undying Loyalty towards Acosta and acts as The Mole, helping Acosta stay ahead of the LAPD's Gang Taskforce.
- On Person of Interest John Reese is living as a homeless man on the streets of New York when Finch recruits him to help save the people on the Irrelevant List. Reese's homelessness is voluntary since he has reached a Despair Event Horizon and really does not care how he lives and what happens to him. Finch is able to pull him out of it by showing him a way to atone for his past actions by helping to save people who have been deemed not important to the big picture.
- Jayne Cobb on Firefly met Mal and Zoe at gunpoint while robbing them. When Mal offers him a spot on his own team, a better salary, and his own bunk, Jayne immediately turns on his partners and joins the crew. Possibly a subversion, as the crew of Serenity spends most of the series in Perpetual Poverty themselves and Jayne is never the most stalwart ally.
- On Scandal Huck was a government assassin who fled a Resignations Not Accepted situation. He lived as a homeless man on the subway where he rescued Olivia ( the daughter of his former boss) from some muggers. An arrangement was reached which ended with Huck working for Olivia as one of her Gladiators when she formed her own PR firm.
- One episode of Just Shoot Me! showed that Jack hired most of the main cast when they were at their lowest point. Nina, once a successful model, was reduced to posing as a mermaid in boat shows; Elliot was selling his photographs on the street; and Dennis was a movie theater usher who had just been fired. Maya was hired in the pilot after she had been fired from a newscast after pissing off the anchorwoman.
- In the Metal Gear series:
- In Metal Gear Solid, Naomi reveals that her adopted brother rescued her (and put her through medical school) after she was orphaned. Her brother was Grey Fox, Snake's old Friendly Enemy; she joined the team to get revenge on Snake for killing him.
- In Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Grey Fox reveals that he's defected to Big Boss's side because he was recruited to Foxhound by him as a child soldier (the later games which starred Big Boss would elaborate on this).
- Big Boss in general founded Outer Heaven as a refuge for disenfranchised soldiers and war orphans...albeit to form a private army. To his credit, he does sincerely care about them.
- Most of the Family's agents in A Dance with Rogues have been rescued from the streets by Master Nathan and his cohorts. For instance, Pia was a Starving Artist before her recruitment as the Family's in-house bard (and sex instructor).
- In the back story for Soul Calibur 2, Raphael is on the run from the king's men when he comes upon a village ravaged by plague. A young girl (Amy) hides him in a nearby building and when asked by the king's men, she sends them in a different direction. Since Amy's parents died from the plague, Raphael adopts her as a daughter.
- The Thief series contains a few examples;
- The entire postgame sidequest featuring Looker in Pokémon X and Y revolves around this trope with Emma, who was living as an orphan in the streets of Lumoise City. At the end of the storyline Looker has to move on, but purchases the agency building for her to live in and lets her keep the expansion suit so she can fight crime as Essentia.
- Happens to a lot of Gray Wardens in Dragon Age. Depending on the Origin you choose in Dragon Age: Origins, this could be how your character ends up in the Wardens, with backstories involving everything from a lift of crime and poverty to being exiled for a crime they didn't commit to being orphaned.
- In the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Ghost in the Machine", Mercy Graves explains to Superman that Luthor took her in off the streets, explaining her loyalty to him. Unfortunately, Luthor doesn't return the sentiments and abandons her when the room collapses, prompting her to turn on him in Justice League.
- Inverted in the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender , when the aristocratic Toph Bei Fong becomes Aang's Earthbending teacher to escape from the Gilded Cage her parents keep her in.