Mar 08, 2020 1508 John Pridmore,

A Gangster Turned into an Evangelist!

John Pridmore was born in Walthamstow in the East end of London. At 13 he began to steal and by 15 he was put in a detention center (youth prison). At 19 he was imprisoned again and, because of his violent behavior, put into solitary confinement.

Being in solitary confinement was like having a mirror put in front of you. I hated what I saw, so I hated myself and the way I was living my life.

I was baptized a Catholic, but was not brought up a Catholic, so I never went to a Catholic school or church. My parents were very loving to me, but they started arguing a lot; when I was 10 they asked me to choose which one I wanted to live with because they were getting divorced. The two people I loved and trusted the most in this world had just crushed me. I really thought I was not loved anymore, so I made an unconscious decision, then and there, that I was not ever going to love anyone. I thought that if you did not love you would not get hurt. I really believe that their divorce led me to make a lot of very bad choices in my life.

I became very angry and bitter and was always losing my temper and fighting, which I think was a symptom of that divorce. Mum used to secretly visit me at school and when my father heard about it he had a massive row with her, right in front of me. At that moment, I felt completely unloved and closed my heart to everyone. The Church teaches that divorce is wrong, and I believe my behavior was the fruit of that. When parents divorce, it really can destroy your life.

Filling the Empty Space

I started bouncing round the east and west end clubs of London. I liked fighting, so I thought I might as well get paid for it! I met some guys who seemed to have the best of everything. They had power and respect, all for the wrong reasons, but I craved that respect, so I started dealing drugs for them. Before long, I was no longer working for them but with them. These were the guys who ran most of the organized crime in London. When I was only 20 years old, I was earning 20,000-30,000 pounds a month.

The money was incredible, but so was the emptiness. I tried to fill that emptiness with what the world offered. I was on crack cocaine, smoking dope and drinking heavily. I was also very promiscuous—I often woke up with girls whose names I did not even know. The more promiscuous I became and the more drugs I took, the more overpowered I felt by emptiness. Even though I was looked upon as a hard man, inside I was a scared man, scared of being rejected for who I really was. I would not share my feelings with anyone because I was scared of being rejected.

I was working in a club that we part-owned in the west end of London when I hit a guy with my brass knuckles, just to impress an underworld boss. I looked at this man lying on the floor and thought I had killed him. What really scared me was that I did not care! I had become somebody who could actually kill and not even care. When I was a kid I did care. I wanted to help people and make the world better, but here I was hurting everyone around me. I never woke up one day and said “Today I will be evil.” It was a slow progression, saying NO to everything good and YES to everything bad.

When God Spoke to Me

After nearly taking that man’s life, something incredible happened. One normal evening, I became aware of this voice speaking to me and I knew that voice was God. He was telling me all the horrendous things I had done. I felt I was dying physically there and then and that I was going to hell. I cried out for another chance, not because I was sorry but because I did not want to go to hell. Suddenly, I felt lifted up and I prayed for the first time in my life: “Up till now, all I have done is take from You, God. Now, I want to give.” As I said this prayer, the emptiness inside was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit and a sense of God’s love for me.

Mum was the only person I knew with faith. I seldom visited her but occasionally gave her an expensive gift when I felt guilty. When I told her how I had heard the voice of God speak to me, tears rolled down her face as she revealed that she had prayed for me every single day of my life. My stepdad gave me my first Bible. As I opened it, my eyes fell on the story of the Prodigal Son. I realized I was like him—starving to be loved.

Face—To—Face with Jesus

Later, I was invited to a retreat with approximately 250 young people. Some of these people had a joy I had never seen. Some of them were coming up and hugging me, which shocked me; as a gangster I had never been touched with love. A priest gave a talk, “Give Me Your Wounded Heart,” about how every sin we commit is like a wound in our heart. As I looked at the crucifix, I was filled with real sorrow for my sins. Much more than that sorrow was overwhelming joy! I felt Jesus was saying to me, “John, I love you so much that I’d go through this over and over again for you!” I started crying for the first time since my parents divorced when I was 10.

Then, I heard a whisper in my heart urging me to go to confession. I had never been to confession and, at 27, I had broken every commandment in the book. I went to confession and left nothing out. I was scared of what the priest might think of me but when I looked into his eyes he was crying. He was not judging me. He was Jesus to me. At the end, the priest put his hand on my head and absolved me from my sins. Yet, it was not his hand, it was Christ’s hand and I knew in my heart that I was forgiven. I could see how much God loved me, despite my unworthiness. I took all of my sin and tipped it all out at the foot of the cross. I felt like I was alive again!

After confession, there was a Mass. Since I had not grown up in the church, when they said that this white host was meant to be Jesus, it made no sense to me. I said a simple prayer, “If this is truly You Jesus then show me because I don’t understand.” As I received Jesus that day, every good feeling I had ever felt in my life, including my experience of God’s love for me and how I felt when I walked away from confession, was magnified and I knew it was Jesus—body, blood, soul and divinity. I believed, not because anybody taught me out of a book, but because Jesus had personally showed me in answer to my prayer. I knew I would be a Catholic till the day I die. He had given me an infused knowledge that everything the Church teaches was the true teaching of Jesus, and that He dwells in every tabernacle in every Catholic Church throughout this world.

The Day I Met a Saint

When I left that retreat, I felt I needed to start giving because I was so sick of taking. I ended up going to the Bronx in New York to work with the Franciscans of the Renewal. While I was there, I had the privilege of meeting Saint Teresa of Calcutta and spending nearly six hours with her. It was an amazing experience to be in the presence of someone who is so filled with God’s love. She told me something that changed my life: “When we share our story, we glorify Jesus.” I believe it was a message from God, asking me to share my story.

Over the last 20 years, I have had the honor of speaking to more than three million people around the world. In 2008, I spoke at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI. At school, they had told me I was stupid because I was dyslexic, unable to read or write; since I gave my heart to God, I have written four books.

If there is anyone out there who might be having doubts, God has a plan for you! For 27 years I was dead but now I am alive, and the greatest joy in my life is speaking on His behalf. For the last 20 years, I have lived completely off God’s providence, traveling the world to share my story. I have made three promises to God: I would be celibate—it is a gift and real joy to be celibate for God; I committed to poverty—so I am not allowed to earn money and any money we make supports the community and the work we do; and I promised to be obedient to the holy Catholic Church. I believe that is God’s will for us. It protects us and keeps us safe.

There was a time when I would never leave my house without a gun. Now, I would never leave without my rosary. Jesus is my best friend. He is also truly my savior.

This article is based on the testimony John Pridmore shared in the Shalom World TV program “My Jesus, My Savior”. To watch the episode visit: shalomworld.org/episode/john-pridmore.


John Pridmore

John Pridmore is an ex-London gangster turned Christian, international Catholic speaker and author.

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