I was born in the late 1970s, and my parents were unmarried. Dad left; so I was brought up by my mother and two sisters. It was a very loving family, but I received a lot of physical chastisement behind the scenes, and was then smothered with affection. A family friend sexually abused me, and I was bullied on the streets.
After my mother died suddenly, I pushed my family away and started to use cannabis and soft drugs, though I was training as a professional rugby player. I had my first prison sentence when I was 18, and that’s how I became a heroin addict, living on the streets in London.
I so desperately wanted to rid myself of the “smack-head” stigma, I replaced the heroin with drink and violence. It was a “family” to belong to, and escape from my misery.
Finding my mum dead on the settee stole my youth, and broke me for so very long. And getting free from heroin: those were the things that took most courage.
I was prayed for in 2000 by David Powe, who had a mini-revival in Belmarsh Prison. I felt an electric shock going through my body. He was speaking in what I thought was Latin, but realise with hindsight was tongues.
It’s difficult to break the cycle of offending. Seven years ago, feeling suicidal, I cried out to God: “If you’re real, if you’re with me, if you’re hearing my prayer, put a white bird outside my cell window in place of the pigeons.” The following morning, while I was staring out the window, the pigeons rose up and a white bird landed. It was a moment of clarity, an epiphany. I knew with certainty it was a message from God to me, and I committed my life to Jesus there and then.
I’m still very nervous when I go to a prison. The first time, I was physically shaking: the smells, the sounds. . . I tried my very best to avoid it. I trained as a sports chaplain with Sports Chaplaincy UK; but the prison ministry developed from there, and I’m obliged to give hope to the guys in my position.
I completed my personal-training qualification in London, supported by my local church, and a church in London provided me with accommodation and fuel to travel to Yorkshire and back each week. I became a personal trainer at a local gym, and started running my own BoxFit class using the hashtag “PinkLadies”, which morphed into a business.
I was the director of Pink Ladies till last year, but an accident forced me to lay everything down at the altar and ask God what I should do. I’d put so much time and effort into building a successful business that it had become a bit of an idol in my life; but now it’s all about the book, and the evangelism in prisons, schools, and the community that it’s opening up.
I’d been a professional rugby player till I officially retired last year after a bicep injury. My heart was for empowering women and girls who probably wouldn’t go to a gym, and the business was generating a large income. People told me it was a terrific concept — could go global; it all sounded great — but was I supposed to be a successful businessman? I think sometimes things have to be laid down, and there’s a cost to what God’s asking.
When I was finally released from prison, I had no money, prospects, or hope. I’d been a career criminal, and my ways of providing for my family had come from criminal means.
My teenage daughter came to live with me unexpectedly, and I knew that I had to get an income and make her proud of her dad. I signed up to attend an in-depth parenting course, and soon my other daughter and son also joined us, and we started out rebuilding the family. They are now 21, 15, and seven, and an absolute blessing. I’d been reunited with my father many years before, and, thankfully, he’s a major part of my life now. My sisters, their children, and grandchildren are now back in my life. Just last year, we had a meal with all my mum’s family present, and it was an amazing occasion.
I’d also started Steps to Freedom as a community-interest company, offering talks and visits to prisons and in the community. Now Taming of a Villain is published, I’m developing this. My heart is to get the book into the prisons and go on mission next year in the UK, and support local churches in evangelism. God’s sent the money to pay the bills, though it hasn’t been an easy time, and it’s a different kind of living.
It would be very easy to get saved and turn my back on people who are in the place I was. Many men and women are desperate for that change, but they just don’t know how. When you share the gospel, virtually every prisoner comes forward for salvation because they’re so desperate — absolutely desperate — and that takes my mind off the sound of officers’ radios, and so on.
Sitting and having my lunch in the officers’ lunch area with the head of security — that’s real confirmation to me of how far God’s brought me.
I had to preach to sex offenders. I didn’t want to do it: first, I put the phone down. When I was inside, any opportunity you got to hurt these guys, you took it. But then I went. I looked at the crowd and found the word “victim” on my heart. Over my last session, those guys were nodding — they were “getting” it. If this demographic can be transformed by God, who wouldn’t help them?
Chaplaincies have small budgets. I look for people to sponsor my visits, or buy my books for prisoners. I was praying about this the other day, and, within seconds, Paypal flashed up $250, and a Facebook friend messaged me saying that he’d sent a small gift: “Hope you can do something with it.” That’s the beauty of trusting for every step.
When I’ve emailed people with funds to ask for help for prisoners, I’ve had no response, but if I ask for help for mental health without mentioning prisons, people run at it — mental health’s a buzz-word. But 90 per cent of prisoners aren’t criminally minded. They’re addicts, or have mental-health issues, or both.
The Church can do an amazing job with prisoners, but the “hands-on” is lacking. You’ve got to take a prisoner by the hand and guide him through the journey, and it may take many years.
A journalist at a prayer meeting encouraged me to write, and God used it as a process to get out everything I’d blocked out all those years — I was only scratching the surface. God knows how I work and make impulsive decisions, but he’s gracious, and he knows I’m trying to work for him. I hope the grace and love of God comes through. It’s had two different ghost-writers, and lots of different editors, and I thought it would never be published — but it was, in June, and now I’m working on the website and receiving more requests to speak.
By the grace of God, anger is one of the things God set me free from. I get annoyed, frustrated, but try to keep away from anger. Politics and injustices annoy me.
I’m happiest when all my children are here, asleep and safe with me. It makes me smile, not just with my mouth but deep within. The best sound is hearing them together, noisy, laughing, chatting — even falling out. I never dreamt it was possible.
I was given hope from Jeremiah 29.11: “‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ says the Lord. ‘Thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”
Prayer is my oxygen. If I don’t pray, I die spiritually. Our spiritual life is dependent on our prayer life, and what we do in the secret place transpires in our daily life. I pray for whatever is on my heart: for the nations, for the lost, for the broken, for the sick, and to tell him just how good God is and how much I adore him.
I’d like to be locked in a church with Billy Graham, the Joshua brothers, Evan Roberts, Hudson Taylor. We’d just sit at the feet of Jesus, and I’d learn how these mighty men of God prayed and worshipped the Lord.
Allen Langham was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
Taming of a Villain: A message of hope by Allen Langham is published by Monarch Books at £11.99 (Church Times Bookshop £10.80).