From London East End tough to God's enforcer

John Pridmore/Catholic Weekly

Aged 27, John Pridmore had already carved out a name for himself as an enforcer in London's unforgiving East End. Then a man lay motionless on the ground, seemingly dead, writes Robert Hiini at The Catholic Weekly.

The man had taken several blows to the head; blows amplified in their savagery by the addition of brass knuckle dusters, wielded with ferocity by Mr Pridmore.

But when his latest victim fell backwards, blood flowing everywhere, Mr Pridmore and the gangland boss he'd been trying to impress knew enough not to stick around.

Driving home, the full extent of the effect of the way he had been living – the "cars, cocaine and girls" – dawned on him. It was not that he was overcome with grief – it's that he wasn't.

"Truly I believed that he was dead; that I had killed him," Mr Pridmore told The Catholic Weekly in an extensive interview at Redfield College in Dural.

"And the thing that scared me the most [was the realisation that] I couldn't care less.

"I just clinically thought, 'Okay, I've killed him. What are the consequences? I've hit him with a knuckle duster so I'd do manslaughter. I'd get eight years, do four.' It was all clinical.

"And then I heard this voice inside of me saying, 'How can you kill someone who's got children, and who's got a wife, and you don't care?' And that's what scared me, because I used to care."

A week later he was sitting in front of the television, contemplating suicide, when he was overcome by an all-encompassing dread.

"I hear people say: 'When I see God I'm going to give him a piece of my mind.' But there were no questions, there was no conversation. There was judgement. And I was petrified, not because I was sorry – I had no remorse – but I did not want to go to hell.

"So I cried out, 'Give me another chance', and immediately I knew I had to get out of this apartment. And as I walked out I said the first prayer I've ever said in my life. 'Up till now all I've ever done has take from you God, but now I want to give'."

And then, all of a sudden, Mr Pridmore was filled by a feeling of immense love.

"I'd done every drug there was, but I had never felt that."

The East London hard man was reduced, for the first time he could remember, to tears.

He thought that he might be going mad, so he visited his mother: Someone who knew the kind of life he had fallen into and who had begun praying a novena for him, nine days prior.

His mother told him that she loved him and that she knew he had had an experience of God – and she suggested he visit the local priest.

It was the beginning of a long, and in many ways, much more interesting journey. (The full and unblemished story is contained in his book From Gangland to Promised Land.)

Mr Pridmore was here in Sydney for World Youth Day in 2008, speaking to around 400,000 people at the final gathering; a gig that went from a scheduled 10 to 40 minutes when the follow-up act failed to produce the right passes.

It was the beginning of something huge: A wave of requests to speak, not only in relatively serene circles, but in some of the darkest, and most desperate of places. On his current visit he has been preaching at parish missions and speaking at public meetings around Australia for the past two months. He is in Australia until August 7.

READ MORE

Meet John Pridmore, God's enforcer (The Catholic Weekly)

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