TO BE protected has meant many things throughout the course of my life. When I was small, it meant being embraced by my mother, or trained to box by my brothers. When I was older, it meant having a reputation that won me friends, and friends who kept my reputation on top. By the age of 30, and with so many bridges burned, protection had to mean something else. With paranoia clouding my every thought, I knew I needed some legitimate work to cover the tracks left by what was now 15 years of illegitimate business.
It was around this time that an opportunity arose for me to volunteer within my local council, mentoring high-risk young offenders. I knew a chap who worked for the council, and I would see him around locally; so it wasn’t a surprise to bump into him one day. What was a surprise was what he said next: “We’re looking for a mentor. You’d be awesome.” I walked away, warmed by the compliment, but confused none the less.
Soon after that, for some reason I was looking through the local newspaper and I saw the volunteering opportunity the guy from the council had told me about. The role seemed simple, consisting of supervising the young people while they were completing their reparation orders. I never imagined I’d enjoy being a mentor when I first agreed to do it — I just knew it was a great cover-up. Who would possibly believe that one of the mentors working for the council was a drug-dealer in his spare time? It was perfect. Looking back now, however, I think there was also some kind of secret desire hidden within me to make a difference.
THINGS started really well, and before long I was offered a position as a paid sessional worker and granted my own pass and council ID card, which I wore around my neck with pride. I remember on one occasion getting pulled over in my car for speeding and, with the ID around my neck, I stepped out of the car before the police officers could get out of theirs. This was something I would often do when pulled over, as it would give off the impression that I had nothing to hide.
When they started to question me on this occasion, it soon came up that I was a mentor for high-risk young offenders with the local council. All of a sudden, the tone of our conversation seemed to change, and the officers began to show genuine interest. Before long, they were joking about how they were surprised I wasn’t driving faster in such a beautiful car!
After chatting for a few more seconds, we shook hands and parted ways. I couldn’t believe what had just happened; they didn’t even search my car. Up until this point, the law had been the enemy to me and my peers. Now, with my legitimate role, I felt I had more power. I had no idea then that I was about to become both stronger and more vulnerable than I’d ever been in my life.
I FOUND it surprising that my cover-up was working so well, but what surprised me more was the fact that I was actually enjoying it. I met some great people while working for the council. I was asked into meetings, and for some reason my opinion appeared to count for something. While there, I created behavioural programmes and implemented them within the sector that I was working in.
I had troublesome young men with serious reputations filling out feedback forms and providing a whole new insight into their behavioural patterns. No one else could get the guys to co-operate, but the more time I spent with them, the more I found myself relating to some of the individuals. Many of them hadn’t had the best start in life, and neither had I. Speaking to them, I cast my mind back to the times when I was a child facing poverty with my family. I thought about when the teachers would segregate me in school, and I was made to sit on my own for hours in halls and corridors. I thought about my teenage years, and later, when my mother and I had only bread to eat.
Mentoring those young men, I often wondered whether I might even be making a positive impact on them. And yet, when I left for home at the end of the working day, the dark realities of my life would quickly return to haunt me, and I would revert to my typical mindset. I had developed a love-hate relationship with myself and with life. I loved what I had achieved, but hated what I had become. I loved what I was doing through mentoring, but I hated that it still wasn’t enough to make me give up the drugs game I had spent most of my life playing.
ALL that was about to change, however. A few weeks into working for the council, I met a man called Pete. Pete was my manager’s manager’s manager, and was more or less the head of an entire department within the council.
We were nothing alike. Where I was loud, always with a point to prove, Pete was polite, calm, and unflustered. Where I would lean back in my office chair with my designer clothes on, Pete would sit upright, typing away in his white button-up shirt. Where I’d go out and pay for lunch every day, Pete wore a backpack and brought a packed lunch with him. And where I’d drive one of my cars into work each day and pay for parking, even though I lived within walking distance of the offices, Pete would catch public transport. I often found myself looking across the office at him, just trying to work him out. What kind of man was he? Why was he so kind?
Then one day I got my chance to find out. Logging on to my computer one day, I got an email informing me of a team-building day that I simply couldn’t avoid. Everybody from every department of the office was required to take part, so I reluctantly went along. One by one, we all had to take turns in an “ice-breaker”, which consisted of each of us standing up to introduce ourselves and share something that no one else knew about us. Everybody nervously took their turn, and, as they did, I realised that I was waiting for Pete to have his go.
By now, I had tried to upstage him many times in the office and couldn’t; no matter who was around, Pete would always say good morning to me when he saw me. Nobody else had really bothered before. Finally, it was Pete’s turn to stand up. As I sat there on the edge of my seat, I was sure he was going to declare that he collected toy trains or still played with Star Wars figurines — both of which would have been fine — but then the strangest thing happened. He reached down into his pocket and took out a tiny little black ring-box, which he held gently in his hands before opening it.
The entire room was silent; you could have literally heard a pin drop. Reaching into the box, Pete held up a small crucifix between thumb and forefinger. Lifting the cross high into the air, he said, “Hi, my name’s Pete, and I’m a Christian.”
This is an edited extract from Guns to God: My journey from drug dealing to deliverance by Claud Jackson, published yesterday by SPCK at £9.99 (Church Times Bookshop £8.99); 978-0-281-08494-4.