Dubai: A once-notorious gangster from the UK, who is visiting the UAE, is sharing his chequered life story with young people, hoping it can keep them from going astray.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview on Tuesday, the reformed John Pridmore from London said: “The youth are fascinated by who I was. But I have lived that lifestyle and can show how evil, selfish and horrible it can be. Mother Teresa once said to me, ‘When you give your story, you help to change’. So it’s a wonderful grace to be able to do that.”
The 54-year-old Pridmore, who is among the key speakers at the two-day Catholic Youth Conference in Arabia (ACYC) 2018 at Ras Al Khaimah this weekend, added: “I was just 10 when my parents got divorced, so I made an unconscious decision not to love.”
He said he took to stealing at the age of 13 and in two years’ time was in a detention centre. “When I was released, I went right back to stealing because that’s all I knew. I was in prison again a year later. In solitary confinement this time, I came out angrier, more bitter.”
Initiation into crime
Pridmore, who had left home, now started working as a bouncer at night clubs in East and West End London. “At the time I thought it was the best place to be as the clubs attracted rich men in the best of cars. They seemed powerful and got a lot of respect. I wanted to be like them.”
He said he soon got involved with organised criminals and there was no looking back. “I made more money than I knew what to do with it. I had what I thought was everything – money, power, drugs, the lot. Yet, there was something missing. This struck me more than ever when I thought I had killed someone outside a nightclub. But something incredible happened and my life began to change. I started examining myself and my sense of emptiness.”
"The youth are fascinated by who I was. But I have lived that lifestyle and can show how evil, selfish and horrible it can be."
— John Pridmore | Reformed gangster
The more he probed, the clearer it became he was on the wrong path. “I learned to be kind, to give and to love, not hurt people. I started working with youth at risk to show them there was a better path than the violent one I had taken. The meeting with Mother Teresa had a huge impact on me.” Pridmore now travels around the world to deliver his motivational talks.
He has also authored four books, two of which – Gangster’s Guide to God and From Gang Land to Promise Land – are international bestsellers.
The ex-gangster said, “I must have spoken in over 200 prisons in 53 countries so far. I like going to prisons now because when I want to leave, they let me out.”
Among the others speaking at the two-day ACYC are Sister Anne Flanagan, a Catholic nun from Boston who claimed she is “probably the first nun to go on Twitter” and J.C. Librian, life coach and founder of Project Courage Zone from the Philippines.
“The great challenge before today’s youth is how they can retain their individuality without being isolated from others,” said the nun.
In the context of social media, she said they give the youth a platform to share their experiences and vulnerabilities from the heart and place trust in people they’ve never met. This calls for virtual prudence and temperance.”
Librian, who also uses the social media to reach out to disadvantaged sections of society, spoke of a life-changing experience when he was able to win the hearts of pickpockets and actually get his wallet back.
ACYC general coordinator Eugene Pareira said Christopher Prowse, Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, is also among the headline speakers at the conference being held at the St Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Ras Al Khaimah.