Joe Turner - loyalist 2 Christ
Jo's mother's side of the family were travelling people or gypsies, spending half his life in a caravan and half in a house, he grew up with a chip on his shoulder. The people he looked at who had money and everything, respect everywhere, never paying for drinks in any bars - their council houses lined with every luxury money could buy. Billy Wright and Robin Jackson were the men he grew up looking up to. A set of men whose sole aim was to take back Ulster, and they wouldn't rest until it was done.
When Jo's parents left East Belfast, he stayed. War with the Roman Catholics and the republicans soon began as standard evening entertainment. Jo 'Levi' was his nickname early on, stealing and selling jeans kept him in the life of a rock star as a boy, living in a derelict house.
Eventually it got to him, and he went back to live with his parents. There he met a girl who took him to a Christian youth club, where they had to fight every night with the 'Philistines' (as the protestants called the Catholics) just to get back on the bus - and this just made Jo's night.
He began to hear things about Jesus Christ on a Sunday that altered him and touched his heart, and he prayed to God one night that he might come into his life, and make him different, and from that night he began a journey.
From Whitewell and being part of a big church, involved with the pastors daughter, everything was going well. Then his brother was involved in a serious car accident when he was 9, and when he came out of hospital after 9 months, his father then developed terminal cancer. Jo promised, when his brother was injured, that if God would give him back his life, he would give God the rest of his life. Living on a buzz and enthusiasm and not the Word of God and daily prayer is not enough. And when his dad was dying and eventually died everything went to the wall slowly, ending up back in East Belfast and the troubles.
Shortly after this his cousin (who he'd previously refused to give a gun for protection) was shot seven times because a guy couldn't get to an uncle of his who ran with Johnny Adair. He vowed to get his revenge, and one thing led to another thing and he got 7 1/2 years. Going to jail with a big chip on his shoulder this time sex offenders, Roman Catholics and prison officers were all targets; so he spent most of his time down the block.
Here he found a bible, felt he knew all about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and put it on one side. But tossing and turning, he felt like God was saying, "Jo, you've made a mess of your life, I wanted to give you a full free life, yet this is what you wanted for your life. Come back to me, and I'll change your life." And I said, "Lord I can't, the screws and the rest of the prisoners will think they've broken me...". He said, "Forget about everybody else and concentrate on me, I'll take your heart and I'll make it what it should have been. I'll make you the husband you should have been. I'll make you the father you should have been."
At first the block officers thought it was a trick and some sort of move to manipulate and deceive them. So for eight months, reading 2 or 3 books a week, Jo got closer to God than he'd ever been before. At the end of 8 months they put him into the prison hospital cos they thought he'd lost his mind, from hard nut, to playing gospel music every day on his radio. So they handed him over to the doctors, and the head of the hospital said, "We're not sure exactly what the problem is, but we'll try and look after you, is everything OK?"
"Yeah," I told him, "I gave my life to Jesus Christ at the turn of the year, and my life's never been the same since."
The doctor then leant over, offering his hand, and said, "Alleluia, I'm a Christian too."
Jo also shared some other fine stuff...
We're now to give God our best, as Abraham did when he met him, his best meal, his best animal, his best milk. If it doesn't cost you anything its not worth anything.
We're to be a witness, people should take note as they look at us, that we're different not cos of education and learning, but because we've been with Jesus.
We're to take back the children, the mothers, the sons and fathers that satan has stolen away from our community for God.
Christ will make you into the person you're meant to be.
Jo Turner is now working for Christian Prison Ministries Ireland, a relatively new organisation with a big vision. At the moment they do individual visits, speak in a few prisons and help with prisoners families. Long term they want to walk the wings of every prison in Northern Ireland, but that's not such an easy thing! Their aim is to run their own 'faith unit' wings for prisoners who want a second chance at life. Half the team are ex-terrorists, the other half are ex-prison service and policemen, the common unity and bond is that Jesus died for them and gave them a second chance at life.