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Reformed Criminal
For someone claiming not to be a superhero, you're pretty good at it. Want a job?

Once upon a time that guy lived on the wrong side of the law. Whether a thief, a highway robber, or other outlaw, he had a Heel-Face Turn and through various circumstances, decided to reform his ways. Now he puts his experience as a former criminal to the service of the law.

Compare Recruiting the Criminal, when the character works for the law while still remaining a criminal, and Boxed Crook, when he's coerced or blackmailed into cooperating with the law. It may even become The Atoner in some cases. Compare and contrast Retired Outlaw, who may never have reformed and may have simply stopped.


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     Anime And Manga  

  • Serena Rinnen from Tower of God used to be a thief until her group got her annihilated by a Ranker. Full of despair, she sought to improve herself and thus landed in the Inner Tower.
  • Though they weren't particularly hardened criminals, Fate and every member of the Wolkenritter (Except for Rein, who didn't exist at that point in the storyline) of the Lyrical Nanoha series started out as villains who were arrested by the TSAB, sentenced to work for the TSAB for a period of time as their punishment, and then decided to continue working for them full time once their sentence ended.
    • In fact, it emerged in StrikerS that Hayate still sometimes gets flak from being at the heart of the incident, despite it having taken place a decade in the past. She works as hard as she does in a bid to shake off the stigma.
  • Kotobuki, of Tsubasa Those With Wings, at the very beginning.
  • Kurama and Hiei of YuYu Hakusho started out as criminals before they each had a Heel-Face Turn.
  • Levi from Attack on Titan is rumored to be a famous criminal until Erwin recruited him into the military. Supplemental materials confirmed this. He even intended to kill Erwin at one point!
  • A side chapter of Fairy Tail reveals Bisca Moulin to be one of these.

     Comic Books  

  • In the Marvel universe, Scott Lang, who becomes the second Ant-Man, is a former burglar.
  • Also in Marvel, the Thunderbolts started out as a group of villains only pretending to be superheroes... until they decided they liked being heroes more and became actual heroes.
  • Most of The Flash's villains, the Rogues, have reformed over the course of years; only Trickster (before his death) and Pied Piper have remained.
  • The Sandman (no, not that one) tried to be a good guy for awhile. It didn't take.
  • Steeljack from Astro City.
  • The Garth Ennis mini-series Pride and Joy is about a reformed criminal trying to leave his past behind him, even though he got away with murder.
  • Max Damage from Incorruptible
  • Dwight McCarthy in Sin City makes frequent reference his wild and dangerous past, but we never get the exact details. All we know is that he could drink and fight with the best of them (According to other characters) and he refers to his urge to resume that life as "the monster." When he is introduced to the series he is making a legal (Although unpleasant) living as photographer for a private detective (Divorces, mostly) and lives a life of strict abstinence, not even smoking, so as not to give "the monster" any chance of coming back.

     Fan Fic  



  • The sidekicks of Judge Dee tend to be reformed highway robbers and con men. Knowing the criminal underworld from the inside makes them quite useful to the magistrate's investigations.
  • In The Years of Rice and Salt, Kheim, the admiral of the Ming fleet that discovers America, is a former pirate.
  • In the Discworld novels Going Postal and Making Money, the main character is con-artist Moist Lipwig. In Going Postal, he still harbors dreams of escape, but by the end he has become this trope. He still wants to hide from his past since his swindling past made him more than a few enemies.
  • In one or two of the Monsieur Lecoq books by Emile Gaboriau, the great detective Lecoq (to some degree based on Vidocq) is said to be an ex-criminal.
  • In the 1632 universe, the Grantville Gazette short stories written about the downtime NCIS (the stories are explicit homages to the TV show of the same name) have more than a few reformed criminals in the service, including the main male protagonist.
  • In the Warrior Cats series, Blackstar. After doing things against the warrior code (stealing kits from another Clan, killing other cats needlessly), he lived as a rogue for a while, but eventually rejoined the Clan, became its leader, and hasn't done anything like that since.
  • In the Resident Evil novelizations by S.D. Perry, Jill Valentine is said to have been a thief, following on the footsteps of her father Dick Valentine, but eventually gave up and joined the S.T.A.R.S. police unit (which incidentally explains her mastery of lockpicks).
  • Molly, of the Dresden Files, is this. Breaking the Laws of Magic is a biiiig no-no.
    • Harry himself is considered this by most of the Wizard population. (He was innocent; Du Morne shot first.) Now he's the regional commander of the Wardens. Go figure.
      • In both those examples, being taken under the wing of a more senior wizard can reduce the sentence from immediate execution to one-chance probation before the same. For both the accused and the wizard who takes them in. The thought is, if they can invoke this trope, both of them are eventually free of the probation, but if not, Black Magic (which actually does corrupt) must be stifled.
    • Sanya used to be the host of a Denarian. Now he's a Knight of the Cross. In fact, it's the job of the Knights to invoke this for the Denarians' hosts.
    • Lash, the shadow of a Fallen Angel when she performs a Heroic Sacrifice and Redemption Equals Death. Doubles as a Tear Jerker.
    • Bob, actually. But this has more to do with who his owner is at any time. When Harry picked him up, he got modeled after Harry's teenage self. Before? Warden Du Morne. Before him? Freaking arch-necromancer Heinrich Kemmler.
    • Thomas has shades of this, by trying to not hurt humans with his Demon.
  • In Codex Alera, Fade is this. Actually, he's Araris Valerian guarding Tavi and Isana. Tavi later causes this in Fidelias Ex Cursori.
  • In the Sword of Truth, Richard causes this in just about everyone he meets. The Sisters of the Light, Nicci, the Mord-Sith, D'Hara in general, the people of Altur'Rang, the list goes on and on. The D'Haran commanders lampshade this.
    • Denna, oh so much.
  • John Wesley Weasel from The Book of the Dun Cow was once a selfish rogue and egg thief, but a beating from Chautecleer induced a Heel-Face Turn, and he spends the entirety of the book as a loyal ally to the good guys.

     Live Action TV  

  • Both of the hosts of the Discovery Channel show It Takes a Thief (2005).
  • And the ABC 1968-70 TV series It Takes a Thief (1968), although in that case the reform was forced from without.
  • Kaz, about a petty thief who became a lawyer while serving a prison sentence.
  • In White Collar, Neal Caffrey, the show's main character, was formerly a con artist before he became a consultant for the FBI in order to keep out of prison. However, if presented with a big enough temptation, he will slip back into his criminal ways because he loves the trill too much. It becomes a constant question on the show if Neal can ever fully reform or if he and his supporters are only fooling themselves.
  • In Power Rangers S.P.D., Jack and Z were Just Like Robin Hood thieves until the Space Police caught them, and the commander offered them the chance to serve as policemen (and Power Rangers) as an alternate to a prison term. Z takes to it immediately; Jack is more reserved but stays legit even after leaving the force.
  • Neelix of Star Trek: Voyager used to be a smuggler. This gets him into some trouble when he meets his old partner, but he's able to fix it by setting a trap for the criminals they got entangled with.


  • Dino Attack RPG has this role filled by Silencia Venemosa, previously a ruthless bounty hunter before she began trying to redeem herself and became involved with the Dino Attack Team. Montoya could also be considered an example due to his background as a small-time criminal, though he never actually joined the team.

     Video Games  

  • At the end of the third Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game, former Gentleman Thief Ron DeLite, aka Mask DeMasque says that he's starting a security company to help businesses defend themselves against thieves. And also that he's going to sell the security plans to crooks. At least he's not stealing anymore?
  • Before his appearance in Starcraft games, James Raynor used to be a bandit, until he nearly got caught (his partner took all the blame, and was sentenced to prison), then he settled down and became a sheriff of Mar Sara colony.
  • After the gang left him in Red Dead Redemption, John Marston gives up the criminal life and chooses to spend time with his family and work on his ranch. Unfortunately, Edgar Ross doesn't see it that way.
  • Vi, from League of Legends, was a life-long criminal in Piltover who went from stealing to survive, to being a member of a guild of thieves, to beating up thieves to steal their loot. Caitlyn, Piltover's sheriff, recruited Vi into the police force as a means to make up for her crimes, giving her the chance to continue pounding ne'er-do-wells without fear of reprisal.

     Web Original  

  • In Worm, the villain Madcap is allowed to join the Protectorate as hero Assault. Judging from the context, this might even be a standard deal in the universe.
    • Later, Skitter attempts a similar tactic, becoming the hero Weaver.
  • Ultra Fast Pony turns into a Cop Show parody for the episode "Stay Tuned". Pinkie Pie fills the role of "a former criminal trying to make up for what I did in the past by joining the force."

     Western Animation  

  • Kevin Levin, once a troubled (but still deadly) kid turned arms dealer, is convinced as a teenager to fight for good after a Plumber (meaning a member of the secret alien police) saves his life at the cost of his own.
  • This is the main plot in Despicable Me 2.
  • Tohru used to be a part of the Dark Hand before his Heel-Face Turn during the first season finale of Jackie Chan Adventures.
  • In Megamind, Megamind becomes a superhero at the end of the movie.
  • Rubberband Man in Static Shock.
  • Parodied in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Hall Monitor", where Hall Monitor SpongeBob tries arresting Patrick for the sole offense of littering ice cream. When he hears of a maniac on the loose in Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob decides he needs the help of a criminal, and convinces Patrick to use his "criminal knowledge" to aid the law... by getting more ice cream.
  • Terry in Batman Beyond was, by his own admission, a real bad kid and even ended up in Juvie for a while before he became the new Batman. The tricks he didn't get from Bruce he picked up in the course of his bad behaviour. Being Batman, as he explains in Return Of The Joker is his way of trying to undo the damage he did.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Princess Celestia stresses she wants Discord reformed of his own free will so he will become this and be willing to use his God-Tier powers for good rather than just being a dick. Other than one major snag, it ultimately works.

     Real Life  

  • A famous Real Life example is Vidocq, a French thief who ended up chief of police, and later became the first private detective ever.
  • Frank Abagnale Jr, both in real life and in the film Catch Me If You Can, went from passing millions of dollars worth of fraudulent checks to working as a fraud consultant for the FBI.
  • Several hackers (convicted and otherwise) have found gainful employment in the computer security field.
  • One former Canadian marijuana smuggler advertised the fact that he'd started up and ran a successful smuggling business before eventually being caught as qualification for why legitimate companies should consider hiring him due to his demonstrated organizational and management skills. It worked, thus neatly avoiding the trap that many former criminals face (a criminal record prevents you from getting a legitimate job).
  • Plenty of Pirates fall under this trope.
    • Zhou Tai, and Gan Ning who are featured in Dynasty Warriors. Both were former pirates before they joined Wu. Although Gan Ning was still a killer deep down.
  • Danny Trejo used to be a criminal when he was younger. Nowadays, he's an actor who said that him playing bad guys is meant to show that Being Evil Sucks, and that he's apparently quite nice despite his background.

Recruiting the CriminalCriminalsRetired Outlaw
Reformed, but RejectedHeel Face IndexRestored My Faith In Humanity
Redshirt ArmyCharacters as DeviceReluctant Mad Scientist

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