Chen - former Brixton gunman
[Written testimony below taken from mp3 audio file of the very first meeting, October 7th 2006 - names have been changed]
As everybody knows my name is xxxx Chen, aka Chen. I was born 1959 in a place called Meriden which is a place in central England. I've been living in London, Brixton, since two years of age. I was a gang member say from nine years of age. One parent family, my Mum couldn't look after me, she was always working, so I found my love on the streets.
I started crime by going Woolworths, down the road, nicking water pistols and things like that - just to go in to Saturday morning pictures and squirt all the kids. Then as I got older around fifteen years of age, you know, there was a gang called The Rebels, in Brixton. I was involved with them. You know we used to go pick-pocketing, then we started selling drugs, things like that.
Then, as I started getting older, I started having children, so obviously I needed a little bit more money. I got involved with robberies, you know robbing jewellers shops, post offices and also banks. I got caught, went to prison, didn't care cos I was a very angry person. A friend of mine told me in my school days that I had a chip on my shoulder and I was the type of person that if you said the wrong thing then I wanted to fight. I find that hard to believe now, because the grace of God is in me and he's changed my life.
Because of the time, I'm going to really and truely give you the bad side of me. Because even though I was doing crime - that wasn't bad, really, that was like an everyday thing what happened in Brixton. Well, as you know, we are suffering in our community with gun cultures. Well, I say that and I feel very ashamed that I used to be a gunman, you know. I got involved in Jamaican politics. You know, when I was in New York there was a gang called the Spangla Posse, I was involved in that. Also, you've got to remember I've got a chip on my shoulder, cos I've got an identity problem cos I've got White, Chinese and Black in me. So not really knowing what I am made me have that chip on my shoulder and I felt like I wanted to prove myself all the time. So everything I done was to like, prove, prove, prove, prove. But God has been really good to me, you know, but I'll explain myself further down the line.
Cat A Jail for Yardie Gangster
Anyway, '93 I got arrested - news on the television, all that. And all of a sudden from being an ordinary prisoner they made me a high risk prisoner. And I know there's some Brothers in here whose been in prison but I can look at some of them in here and I know that they haven't been through what I've been. Being in a unit in Belmarsh Prison is like being in a prison within a prison. When I used to go on exercise, they used to put us in a cage. The type of criminal I associated with were like the IRA, the Colombian Cartels or the very violent murderers and so forth and so forth.
The difference between me and the average prisoner, everywhere I went, even if I go to the toilet they had to write it down. Everywhere I went in the prison I had to have the book. If I made a phone call, they taped it. If I had a visit from my family, the prison officer sat down beside me. So, basically, they took away my intimacy which still affects me now. I went in that prison sentence as a very over-confident, arrogant, I would like to say a horrible person and I came out a person who didn't want to socialise, I walked with my head down like this 'cos I got a 12 year sentence and I done eight years and five days which is a lot of difference from six months, a year.
So, I'm in prison feeling lost, very lonely and very, very, very very angry you know because it was like a constant battle with the system. But it kind of helps you to go through to be angry with someone else than your own self when you're in the wrong, you know, venting my frustration in the wrong direction? But you know when I first heard about God speaking to you I thought you know like in the Hollywood movies you hear a voice, you know, "Inch, you've got to be a good boy today". It doesn't work like that!
God at work
The first time God actually spoke to me, in prison, was through my wife Nell. She done the Alpha Course at her church with Nicky Gumbell and she sent me this book. And you know when you're in love? When a man loves a woman? So I says, let me just read this, 'cos I thought she was going off her head to be quite honest. But you know I'm trying to think, well, obviously I've been away from her for about six years. I'm trying to keep a relationship going so I'm reading to think how she's thinking so when I'm writing to her I can lie and...
But there's a part in the book it's talking about the void, something missing and then obviously I'm coming from a one parent family. The void, you know, the missing Father. And all of a sudden it just dawned to me, "wow, something really is missing." In prison you think you can go right round the world and back 'cos you've got untold time to think! Then there was a part in the book that mentioned about the wages of sin is death and the gift of God is life and all of a sudden it's like woof, something hit me, you know, and tears came into my eye but I couldn't understand what was really happening, you know? So I put down the book because I found myself really and truely getting emotional.
I carried on living my prison life, selling heroin so I could get credit on phones, eat and live comfortable - trying to give it the large life, you know, showing off. Trying to impress. You know, stick to the status of a High Risk prisoner, dangerous man, Yardie gangster, and so forth and so forth. Anyway, I got in a bit of bundlings where, you know, they had to move me off the wing where there was a fight and they didn't want no repercussions because of these gangs and things like in prison. So, from Full Sutton they sent me to Whitemore. So within about six weeks I'm settlin' in Whitemore and all of a sudden, you see like that film 'Jesus - The World's Greatest Comeback' I saw this film and then they says "Does anyone wanna do the Alpha Course?" And like a magnet I just went over there like this and put my name down. Well, God, he drew me there because I can't explain why I done it.
Unexpected Alpha Course
Now, remember, in the prison heirachy I'm classified as somebody a lot of cons would look up to. So, all of a sudden my friends said, "Umm. Chen really ago off 'im head. Going to church?!" Now, the Alpha Course at that time, in Whitemore, was doing an experiment where they got the vulnerable prisoners, like guys in for rape and things like that and the normal prisoners and we're in the prison Chaplain and we're sitting on this side and the vulnerable prisoners on that side and you can feel the tension. But you see how great God is? In normal circumstances now, if it wasn't in the church - please believe me, those vulnerable prisoners, we would have jumped them and beat them up and that is really sad.
After about three days of the course now, I looked on one of them and I said, "You know what? I cannot judge you. I do not agree with what you done, right? But I'm in here for sin as well and there's no sin bigger than any other sin." And when I actually said that, it was like everybodys... the weight was off the shoulders, and we start interlocking. It was like, you know, by the grace of God because ask anyone who's in a prison and those things just don't happen!
Anyway, done the Alpha Course got about two years left now, or three and... what happens in prison, you know, we ain't got nothing positive, you know? Everyone is nothing but negative vibes. We are very sick mentally, we ain't got no-one who actually helps us. When you do a long time in prison and what this man [Steve Rawlings] is doing here, I've got to compliment that, 'cos when I actually came out I didn't have that help but I had the love of a mother and a wonderful wife for the support, ok?
On the outside
So, anyway, that was the bad times and the ugly times, whoah! I can say the ugly time was a transformation because I still didn't realise God had a plan for me, you know? I come out of Belmarsh Prison, they boot me out of prison, basically as an A-Cat. I didn't get nothing. In fact, all I got in return was five days extra sentence! I was released with forty nine pounds but obviously wheeling and dealing I had a bit more money, you know, which I had to do that to survive.
I went home, saw my beautiful wife, God bless her. That was just before Christmas. So I think I was released, like, a Thursday and I went church. By the way, I go Lewin Baptist Church. I recommend it, it's a beautiful church, you must come there!
I always remember my first experience going into church. That was so intimidating for somebody like me. Someone who was, like, a so-called 'hard man', a dangerous person, felt like a little boy - I did feel like a really little boy in there, in front of the Father! I used to sit at the back! You ever noticed when you go to church for the first time, you don't want no-one else to know you're there especially when you come from prison, you know? You're paranoid you think everyone's talking about you, things like that. I used to sit at the back now I sit at the front - Amen! Mind you it took about three years! So anyway I'm sitting there with my wife, I'm paranoid I'm looking, you know, and then we got married and I got baptised. But that was just, like, the seed being sown.
You see God, my Father, you know I'm not gonna give you no fancy prayers, I'm just telling you what it's really all about. You can walk up and down the streets, right, you can ask the children who are 'shooting off' one another and certain people in certain environments like Bagdad, Myatts Field Estate, yeah, I know a lot of them Muslim Brothers as well, 'cos even some of my children is involved with those and I put peace in about my past.
God in work
First of all, a man whom is a seasoned criminal like myself, not supposed to get a job, ok? Ok, so I signed-on and to tell you the truth, you know, if you go back eight years ago when I used to sign-on, I could sign-on, take my dole cheque and out! All of a sudden they give me a ticket I got to fill off all these forms like a book and I'm, you know, I'm coming out after eight years and a lot of things have changed! And I'm looking at this and I'm looking at all these people and I think, "I can't take this!"
So I saw this beautiful black Sister and I said to her, "Listen, I'm gonna tell you something here, you know, and I'm going to tell you the truth. I just done eight years, five days in prison, I ain't got a clue how to look for a job, I need to find a job, can you please help me?" And she looked at me like this and I almost cried because all the eight years of emotional pain, yeah? It was like I wanted to cry but you know you're just holding back the tears. And she said to me, "Yes. I'm going to help you, because for you to say that took a lot of..." basically, she said I was brave. What she did now, I had to go there once a week instead of going through the normal channels and that was like December.
By February I got a job, by the grace of the Father! Remember, you know, there is no way I supposed to get a job, you know. People said I'm going to die. By the way, the guy I used to go around with is doing a 35 brick, ok? So, you know, that's how serious I was invloved. Satan had me, he had me in the palm of his hand. And God, our Father, he raptured me - he took me from death! Because the life I was living, I was literally dead! Because, you know, it was either I'm gonna get shot or do life in prison. There was no other options, you know, so take heed. I'm not gonna give you no fancy thing, not fancy prayers, I'm telling you how it really is!
Anyway, God gave me the jobs, cleaning buses and parking them up. Now, the first thing I had to deal with was my wages. My Brothers, you get anyone who knows about the criminal life? Now I'm killing up myself, sweeping, mopping up buses, right? And by the time they taxed me it was about two hundred pound! Now, I am accustomed to spending two hundred pound just for the night, to go out! I used to cuss to myself. You know when you're just trying to find an excuse not to work? Then I'm looking at my wife, you know how women... and I'm thinking well, she did wait for me eight years, I gotta give it a go. I'm in a 'catch-22', you know! But you see the Father, he knows what he's doing! So, after a year of working I interrupt the supervisor, you know, because obviously the type of people where I was working, I was a bit smarter than them, street-wise, so I caught on a bit quicker. So from there now I moved on and got a driving job.
I used to drive to Manchester, Birmingham and Oxford in one day. Before that I used to deliver newspapers to the hotels. So, for a man now who's always, you know, made a living by crime - I'm making honest money. And, you know, it's like all of a sudden I'm thinking, wow! You know, peoples looking at me different, you know? I'm mixing with honest people and when I started mixing with honest people that was very intimidating 'cos, you know, especially from church 'cos they were so loving and caring. You see, in the criminal world, my best friend wouldn't even know where I lived but yet me and him used to go out and steal X amount of money. And up to this day, I can't figure out the logic! One day we'll figure it out. But, you know, we're friends but yet I don't know where you live and you don't know where I live, it's crazy!
Life goes on...
Because I've been away so long, my children wasn't children, they were big men. My baby-son now is 24, he's named Jerome. Anyway, around Christmas we kept saying, "We've got to meet up, we've got to meet up"! and obviously I'm working, I didn't have no time but somewhere along the line we decided to meet up the 9th January. But because of what's going on in Brixton, they've got the Muslim gangs and blah, blah, blah - one of his friends is a Muslim!
Basically, I went and picked them up but he had a gun on him, which I didn't know. And driving around, Trident came along, stuck us up, put us on the floor and I got arrested again! And I've got to tell you the truth, you know, that was the worse part for me ever, for going into prison 'cos, you see, previously I didn't know what it was like to be looking over your shoulder, I did not know what it was like to be free and that four month spell, I was so angry!
And, in fact, I was angry with God, you know what I'm saying, you know what's going on because we always try to blame, you know? During that time, I done a painting of Christ on the cross, just coming out of waterfalls. And I started reading The Word and I started coming to the conclusion, "Thank you, God." 'Cos what God was saying to me was, for all the things I've done for you, right, you still haven't given me the thanks and praise. 'Cos, see my Father? He's done so much for me! He's transformed my life, you know? He's taken me from death and given me a new life.
And I built up a closer relationship with God. I'm not the everyday Christian who's gonna come and preach to you. I'll just tell you what it's all about, the relationship I've got with The Father. Each one of us has got our own personal relationship with the Father. I'm not impressed with people who come to them fancy prayers because anyone can do that but that don't mean you're praying from your heart. The people that impress me are the people that are working and helping people. Because "any of the work you do, you've got to do for my sacrifice", you know?
And all I'm gonna say and draw to conclusion with is this: I came out after four months, went to this organisation and I've got to tell you the truth I was so touched because God has answered my prayers in many ways, because where as I didn't have that but I had a family, a loving mother and a loving wife - the support. A lot of my fellow Bredren, in prison, they haven't got that, right? Most of us that go to prison, right, have got scars, mental scars, from an early age and we haven't got no one to talk to, you know? And then on top of that you got the every day 'Joe Bloggs' judging us which is wrong because, you know, if you're Christian, you know, you must never judge somebody but it's very hard not to judge, isn't it?
But I'm saying this guy here [Steve Rawlings], this is the first time I've met him so I'm not massaging his ego - I am so happy to be here tonight and I thank you so much, each one of you in here. We wasn't born bad, we were born free from sin, you know. I don't want to make up excuses because life is about choices but in a lot of our cases we did not know better. We did not have a role model. So now we, everyone here and myself, we go out there we have to take the Father, the role model and put the church back in the community and put back the love. Because only through the glory of God's love and his Spirit can it work - no other way! I draw to conclusion, that God has been good to me and I'm the living proof. Thank you very much!
Testimony recorded at first Transformed meeting October 2006. Transcribed from the mp3 audio file painstakingly by Stephen.