After nearly killing a man, enforcer turns to God
by Sheila Myers
Special to The Leaven
In 1993, John Pridmore’s life of crime came to an abrupt halt.
At age 27, the 6-foot-5-inch, 260-pound Pridmore was working as a paid enforcer for some of London’s biggest drug barons.
“I had everything: a luxury penthouse, a BMW 7 Series convertible; I had so much money, I couldn’t spend it,” Pridmore said.
But after nearly killing a man, Pridmore experienced a religious conversion. He walked away from the drugs and the violence and devoted his life to God. Pridmore has spent the past 15 years encouraging young people to open their hearts to Jesus.
“[Jesus] knows the answer and he can bring freedom in any situation, but he only goes where he’s invited,” Pridmore told an audience of youth and adults at St. Ann Church in Prairie Village recently.
His downward spiral began at age 10, when his parents’ divorce turned him angry and bitter.
“I made a conscious decision not to love again,” he said. “If you don’t love, you can’t get hurt.”
He started stealing at age 13. At 15, Pridmore went to youth prison. He returned to prison at age 19. His anger was so toxic, he spent most of his time in solitary confinement. When he got out, he found his way to the underbelly of London’s club scene. Eventually, Pridmore became a bouncer for nightclubs on London’s East and West ends.
Pridmore was involved in drug deals, protection rackets and vicious crimes. He never left the house without his machete and gun and he never sat with his back to the door.
“Nothing satisfied me,” he said. “Nothing fulfilled me.”
After getting into a violent fight outside a club, Pridmore drove home realizing he was more worried about spending time in prison than whether he had killed someone. What had he become? Then he heard a voice in his heart.
“It’s a voice every one of us knows,” he said. “God within us.”
For the first time in his life, Pridmore broke down and prayed. Instead of emptiness, he felt the Holy Spirit. In that moment, he knew his life mattered because God loved him.
The first person he told of his sudden conversion was his mother, who had prayed every day for her son. Pridmore was surprised to learn that she had just finished a novena to St. Jude — the patron saint of lost causes — for him.
Though it seems miraculous, Pridmore’s transformation did not come easily.
“I didn’t run off into the daffodils wearing a ‘Jesus Loves Me’ T-shirt, pick up a guitar and a pair of sandals along the way,” he said. “This was one of the most terrifying moments of my life.”
Pridmore left the gang alive only because one of its leaders pledged to protect him.
“It was his insurance policy in case there was a God,” Pridmore said. “And I think his insurance policy worked because I’m still alive.”
Pridmore has addressed more than 3 million young people in 16 countries, including former child soldiers in Liberia and Catholics at the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney.
He is not paid for his speaking engagements. Proceeds from three books, including the bestseller, “From Gangland to Promised Land,” help fund his efforts. His books and talks deal with forgiveness, peer pressure and finding freedom from past wounds.
After Pridmore spoke at St. Ann, Rockhurst freshman Tommy Vopat wanted to learn more about Pridmore’s story.
“How he just got off drugs like that was amazing,” Vopat said.
Vopat bought the book.
John Thesing was so impressed by Pridmore, he heard him twice — that evening at St. Ann and earlier in the day at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, where he is a junior.
“It’s amazing how he could come from such a black place and completely turn around,” Thesing said.
Aquinas invited Pridmore to speak before more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff and parents.
“We’re always looking for a message that comes through,” said Aquinas principal Mike Sullivan. “John’s story has that shock value that’s enthralling to kids.”
Besides speaking to young audiences around the world, Pridmore works with at-risk youth in Ireland, where he lives as a member of a small religious community called St. Patrick’s.
He enjoys talking to youth, but he also has advice for adults.
“Be witnesses of morality for young people,” he said. “Talk to them. Spend quality time with them. Kids need to know they’re loved and worth something.”