When Deborah had her first fix of heroin, she says it made her feel whole, secure and safe. She was 15 years old. Prior to that she’d used softer drugs, like uppers and downers, and says that the drugs she used were very popular around this time in the 1960s.
It was heroin though that became Deborah’s main drug. She says it made her feel opposite to the negative feelings she felt because of bad things she’d experienced in life. Growing up in her family had been an unhappy experience. Her dad was Jewish and had had a lot of his family killed in the war, so there was a lot of sadness. Then Deborah was sexually abused by another family member when she was a young teenager. Heroin temporarily helped her to forget those painful experiences and made her feel good.
Because it made her feel so good, Deborah says, “I stole to get drugs. I sold myself to get drugs. I did lots of things. But interestingly I never got caught by the police. I never had a criminal record, which stood me in good favour later on. But it was a very tough time and I didn’t really appreciate what it was going to do to me mentally or physically.”
Deborah said that she later met a man who became her partner and they became very close and would take drugs together, but then he died and was found beside a road with his motorbike.
“Then it came to me,” said Deborah, “That drugs could kill you. I’d never thought of it that way before. It frightened me to death and I decided to come off, just like that. I was going to stop taking drugs, which of course was very stupid, because it actually sent me into a psychosis and I was admitted to a mental hospital and I was ill for quite a long time.”
While Deborah was in the hospital, one of the chaplains would often come and sit beside her bed. He never preached to her or talked about God. He would just be there to keep her company, even if they often just sat in silence and Deborah wondered what his motives were; but it intrigued her and when she got discharged it made her want to examine and find out more about Christianity.
Deborah says, “I didn’t know much about the Christian faith, but I decided to go to an Anglican church, because that is what I though Christianity was all about. And I gradually started to discover more about Christianity. I didn’t make a commitment, but I discovered more.”
Deborah added, “About the same time as this I met my second partner and we got married. Unbeknown to me he was a manic depressive and became very ill, especially after we had our first child, then we had another one, and life became quite difficult again.”
Deborah says that her husbands illness put a lot of pressure on her, but she never turned back to drugs, and while her children were very small she met up with a group of ladies who had bible study in their homes and she discovered what a relationship with Jesus was all about and she made a commitment of faith. Her spiritual life started there when she was in her mid twenties.
Deborah says, “We carried on going, Eric and I, for a long time. But it got more and more difficult to be married to him and when the children were in their teens we split up.”
Deborah felt very bad about this, as she felt that as a Christian, marriage should be for life and she shouldn’t be divorcing. So she felt like she was going against her Christianity. She also felt the pressure of being on her own bringing up two children. She then relapsed and started using heroin again, but only for a short time. She says that during this time she was in a fellowship who were very supportive, and she says, “Thank God I was able to stop quickly.”
As Deborah continued to grow in her Christian faith she says she got stronger and it became easier to resist drugs. And drugs were no longer important in her life. Though she adds that she still has to be careful, as drugs could still be a temptation.
Deborah then moved to an area in South London and started attending a lively church that she still attends. As time went on she found herself serving and doing more and more for the church. She says, “I now lead services at our little sister church up the road. I occasionally preach and I’ve got very much involved in the pastoral side of the church, caring for people.”
As this all gradually happened, Deborah also went back to work, working full time for the civil service. And she felt that she’d became what people thought was a normal person, and Deborah says, “That really its been God that held me and kept me going all these years. And without the knowledge of him I don’t think I’d have stayed clean.”
Deborah met her current husband for the first time when he blocked her in the church car park. They’ve now been married 25 years. Deborah laughed as she said to me, “We got married on the 5th of November, because we knew in our marriage there would be fireworks.”
Deborah retired from her job 12 years ago at the age of 60, to care for her husband full time after he had a stroke.
When talking about Deborah’s previous addiction and now having faith, she says, “I want people to know that you can have a life without drugs, even if you’ve used drugs. But having a life without Jesus is really not on for me now. I need my faith and I need my love of Jesus to keep me going. And I want to say to people, find out about Christianity. Find out about Jesus. If you don’t go to church, try a church. If you don’t read your bible, try reading a little bit. Learn more about this Jesus who cares about you, and he’s prepared to forgive you for anything if you turn to him. He’s prepared to help you lead a new life. And I would say, yes my life hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learnt an awful lot from it.”


As a multi award winning international Christian filmmaker, Jeremy Higham’s career has had its high points and low points. 53 year old Jeremy has been to over 25 different countries and filmed in most of them. There have been times that he’s felt broken, tackling subjects like suicide, terrorism, and one film he made was about an orphanage where young girls were regularly dying of starvation.
Jeremy has also made many feature length documentaries about celebrities, including world boxing champion Prince Naseem, presenter Ulrika Johnson, and racing driver Eddie Irvine, and whilst he was making this film he got to stay on Eddie’s multi million pound yacht.
Jeremy, known as Jez to his friends, had quite a privileged upbringing. He was the son of millionaire parents who ran a business making sheets for the NHS, and his family employed four-thousand people. He grew up in a very large country house in Lancashire, with a five acre garden with a tennis court and swimming pool. Although Jez’s parents were wealthy though, he sensed an unhappiness between them.
At the age of seven Jez had been sent to a private boarding school. He found this estrangement from his family upsetting but was glad that the headmaster there, Mr Molloy, was a loving father figure, who took Jez under his wing. Jez stayed in contact with him as friends for nearly four decades, until Mr Molloy sadly died last year.
At the age of 14 Jez started going off the rails a bit, rebelling and getting very much into heavy metal music and drinking and as he got older he experimented with soft to medium strength drugs.
Jez got into filmmaking in an unplanned way. He’d failed a module of his degree course at Aberdeen university, then a friend of his suggested that they buy a video camera and make sporting videos, approaching places like ski resorts and gold clubs. Jez says that his friends enthusiasm for these ventures was contagious and really motivated him to get involved.
Jez and his friend got their first break when they were offered freelance work, making films for North Sea oil companies. They then found themselves flown out in helicopters to oil rigs, where they stayed for up to a week and Jez found this exciting, even though they were often just filming things like pipes being welded together. It felt glamorous though to be travelling and working with cameras. Jez’s passion for documentary was then born.
Jez then decided to go to London, as most media breaks happen there. He got offered a job with a company called Black Rod, which was ran by Michael Rod, who was a famous TV presenter on shows like Tomorrows World. He then made high budget videos for various companies. Budgets of up to quarter of a million pounds, for just ten minute videos. It was a chance for Jez to further learn his craft, firstly as an assistant producer and then as a director.
Break followed break, and Jez ended up in Northern Ireland, working as a director for Ulster Television. He was then responsible for making three minute productions which were screened as features after the news.
Jez was then offered a commission to make a feature length production for Channel 4, as part of The Lonely Planet series. He set off for Vietnam with four-thousand pounds in his pocket, the petty cash for the production. He was told by the producer to not come back without something special. He went on to direct a total of five Lonely Planet programs and the series was a great success.
At Channel 4 Jez later found himself working with the likes of Chris Evans, Rory Bremner and Joe Brand, to mention a few. He went on to make single documentaries where he would live with famous people and Jez had once had to wake up racing driver Eddie Irvine when he’d overslept and he’d almost been late for a Grand Prix in Malta.
The documentary about Eddie Irvine brought Jez acclaim at national level and the heads of many TV companies started bombarding him with numerous offers of work. One day he got so many offers and contacts on his pager that he had a panic attack. He was unable to go into the production office where he was working and he asked a colleague if she would come out onto the street and walk around the block with him whilst he calmed down.
The most significant film of Jez’s life was soon about to happen. A phone call from the Belfast production company he’d previously worked for introduced him to an orphanage in Moldova, in Russia. He’d been sent photos of emaciated children. When he got there he witnessed first hand that the girls were starving and dying at a rate of one a week. The girls were often in the dark and some of them were sleeping on bin liners, laying in their own faeces.
Jez then became personally involved, which he feels is always a mistake for a filmmaker. He remembers going to the house of the director of the orphanage and nearly physically assaulting him and Jez begged him to open up the food stores that the production crew had brought for the children. Moldovan law had required that every tin first be counted and labelled by officials before the starving children could actually eat it. Jez was so overwhelmed with anger that he felt like he was ready to shoot someone.
When the children of the orphanage were finally able to eat, Jez describes it as a memory he’ll never forget. The joy on the children’s faces as they stuffed themselves with fresh cabbages and baked beans.
The completed film called Convoy to Moldova was bought by the BBC and won three awards at the Monti Carlo film festival. During the making of the orphanage film Jez also had another powerful experience that would change his life for ever. He became a born again Christian.
Jez had came back to England for a while and had been to a party with a group of Christians and Jez had been intrigued by them and instantly saw them as a group of amazing people who were somehow different. He’d asked to meet them again and went to their church that was running Alpha meetings. On about the fourth week, they asked the people on the Alpha course is anyone wanted to receive Jesus in to their hearts, and though Jez felt a bit resistant to the idea he thought he’d give it a try. A young guy then stood next to him and asked Jez if he’d like to be prayed for, and Jez said yes. The man then said, “Jesus come to Jeremy.”
Jeremy then felt a weight and peace come into his body. It was so overpowering that he couldn’t stand up so he laid on the floor feeling wonderful. After a while he got up again and he went to the gents and looked in the mirror and saw that his whole face was kind of shining bright and he knew something very profound had happened. Jez later prayed the salvation prayer.
As a new Christian Jez now had a passion for God and now had the desire to create films that revealed the life changing and saving power of Jesus, but frustratingly this kind of thing was of little interest to mainstream secular television.
Because Jez wanted to tell Christian stories now though, he set up Cornerstone films with two church friends. Even though the TV world was mainly secular, he managed to get commissioned and make a feature length documentary called God bless Ibiza. The film was about a group of Christians, many of whom were ex drug users and drinkers who’d been into the rave scene, but now as Christians had a ministry evangelising to night clubbers in Spain. God bless Ibiza was shown by Channel 4 at a peak time audience slot.
Another film Jez made was called Exodus, which was a 15 minute film about a group of Russian Christian pastors who had once been drug addicts, bank robbers and gangsters, but were then saved and born again. It’s an extremely powerful film, but it was seen as something outside of mainstream television interest, even though the film was extraordinary.
Some years later Jez then decided that he wanted to be an ordained Christian minister, but was turned down by the Church of England who felt that he would bring too much creativity and spontaneity to the role. It was quite a blow to Jez to have been rejected and he spent a year after licking his wounds.
10 years ago Jez then set up his currant venture with his wife Esther, a business called J & E Higham, where they make short corporate videos for the websites of organisations, businesses and charities. Jez’s business employs 10 people.
Jeremy had become a Christian 18 years ago now and a couple of years after this he married his beautiful wife Esther. When Jez first saw Esther in a crowd of 500 people, he thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to be married to a women like that.”
Before Jeremy had become a Christian he’d had dozens of sexual relationships and described himself as a bit of romance addict. He never thought he’d find fulfilment settling down with one person. Not only are Jeremy and Esther married, but they’ve also spent many years working together. Esther has often been the producer behind Jez’s film productions and Esther has also worked at times as a presenter on Premier Christian radio and also on their internet TV site.
Jeremy now humbly describes himself as having been a bit of a nightmare sometimes to live and work with, but over a period of time their marriage has gone from strength to strength and got stronger and Jeremy says that him and Esther are very much in love and they are both parents to their 13 year old son Asher and their 11 year old daughter Daisyella, both of whom they love to bits.
As a filmmaker, Jez has been on a steep learning curve. Not only has he had to learn the practicalities of filmmaking, but he’s also had to learn to cope with the emotional side. He’s had to deal with some harrowing subjects and at the end of the day he’d sometimes went home emotionally drained and exhausted and sometimes he’d just cried. As a filmmaker, Jez gained a passionate heart and an empathy for human suffering and he’d wanted to use his talent to help, educate and make better in some way some of the things he was seeing.
Jez has also experienced extreme highs as a filmmaker. He’s travelled all round the world to some amazing places, worked with celebrities and other extraordinary people. He’s had experiences that will stay with him forever. But for Jez, the greatest thing he’s experienced was becoming a born again Christian.
Another significant thing that happened in Jez’s life, was 11 years ago when he moved from his house in built up urban area of Brixton, South West London, to a semi rural area of Edenbridge in Kent, and Jez describes the move as, “like being let out of jail.” They’d moved to a modest semi-detached ex council house, and they were later able to get a loan and buy the 14 acres of field land that their house backs onto, after the land came up at auction.
When I interviewed Jeremy for this article, I asked him if there was anything he’d like to say to anyone reading it. He replied these exact words.
“What I’d like to say as a closing thought will sound strange to anyone who has not experienced what I’ve experienced, but I can honestly say, the most essential part of my life now is my relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything good and worth having in it, has come from that. I can’t put it more simply.”


By Paul Warwick

“Gimme the money,” Pablo said to the building society cashier while he pointed the gun at her, wearing a menacing balaclava.
Pablo was surprised when she answered him sarcastically and he felt she was being deliberately slow while she put the money in the bag, so Pablo then pointed the gun at another cashier and told the sarcastic one that if she didn’t hurry up he would shoot her colleague.
Pablo didn’t enjoy doing armed robberies, and says that doing them made him feel fearful. But he was driven to do them by his addiction to heroin, and he also sometimes took cannabis, methadone, speed, Valium, ecstasy and LSD.
Pablo ended up getting arrested by The Flying Squad and was found guilty of six armed robberies, three attempted robberies and nine counts of possessing a firearm. The crimes were committed against building societies, post offices and shops.
Pablo was sentenced to a total of 67 years, though thankfully the sentences were to run concurrently, which meant he was serving a sentence of 12 years. It was 1990 and he was 24. A year later at the court of appeal, he’s sentence was reduced to 10 years.
Pablo served two thirds of his sentence, as a third came off as remission for good behaviour. Towards the end of his sentence a woman started writing to him and they started a relationship. When he got released on a short home-leave, he failed to return to the prison and went on the run with his girlfriend. He was captured 11 months later and returned to jail, where he completed the rest of his 10 year sentence. During this time he married his girlfriend whilst he was still in prison. And he got released in the late 90s.
Pablo says about his marriage, “The pressures were very great on myself, and I ruined the marriage. It was completely my fault and we divorced three years later.”
Pablo hadn’t had a good start in life and had a very unhappy childhood. He says, “At the age of five I was put into a salvation army children’s home ( Along with his sister ) which I stayed at for three years the first time. I was returned to my home, but roughly a year later we were both put back in the children’s home in Whitstable, and I stayed there till I was 12 and returned home and stayed home until I was 15 and I was put in a children’s home yet again, in Croydon. When I turned 16 I was put in hostel, which I left on my own accord and started a long road of bed and breakfast’s and little bedsits, which was a nice time until I reached 18. Things started going wrong then. A succession of girlfriends that went wrong, and I got in with the wrong crowds, doing wrong things.”
“After some years of testing the police and system,” says Pablo, “I was arrested for armed robbery when I was 24. There were nicking’s before that. I was arrested quite a few times, but when I went to court I always managed to get out of it, but obviously on the charges I was brought up on ( Armed robbery ) there was no getting out of them.”
When Pablo got out of jail he took drugs again for many years. A couple of times he overdosed and ended up in hospital, during which times the nurses looked down on him and weren’t that sympathetic, as overdoses by drug addicts are seen as self inflicted. He did later though go into Warlingham Park hospital to do a drugs detox and he says that it was a completely different and therapeutic place, where the nurses and other staff were supportive, kind and helpful.
Drugs though eventually led Pablo to have a mental breakdown about six years ago and since then he’s had a schizotypal illness and Pablo explained how the illness started.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing on a lot of occasions. I thought that people were spraying me with chemicals. And I wouldn’t talk to anyone. I wouldn’t have anything to do. I used to tie my windows up and put extra locks on the door. I didn’t trust anyone. I had a mental health nurse but she couldn’t get close to me, and I was put in The Bethlem ( A psychiatric hospital ) for three months. I was particularly ill, but after a couple of months of taking the medication I got better.”
Pablo was then discharged from hospital and agreed to continue taking antipsychotic medication, which he has by depot injection every four weeks. He’s stopped taking medication a few times since then, but became ill, and he’s taken about 6 different antipsychotic drugs, to see what works best for him, and now he’s currently on a medication called Abilify. Soon after he got released from hospital he moved to Canterbury House, a large hostel in Upper Norwood, South East London, that houses mainly people with mental illnesses. The residents have their own independent living facilities within the hostel, such as large self-contained living rooms with their own kitchen area and toilet and bathroom.
Pablo started coming to church about a year ago, after being invited by Daz to The Freedom Forum, an award winning bible study and social group at Christ Church Anerley, South East London. The group is run by Daz, an ex criminal himself, who’d spent time in prison and hospital, before committing his life to Jesus, and Daz now has a small team who help him run the group.
The social group starts at 12 midday and runs for two hours on a Thursday. This is followed by the bible study group at 2pm, which usually lasts between 60 to 90 minutes. There are sometimes up to 20 people who attend the group, many of whom have been in prison, hospitals, and have mental illnesses. Pablo said he started attending the group at first, because he was curious.
After a year of attending The Freedom Forum, Daz was bringing Pablo to the group in his car, and he asked Pablo if he’d like to become a Christian, and Pablo said, “Yes.” When they got to the church, Pablo said the salvation prayer with Daz and gave his life to The Lord.
Pablo feels that he’s changed a lot since he’s been coming to church and now he’s a Christian and says, “I used to argue and fight with people, but now I’m much less likely to. In fact, since I’ve been coming to church I’ve walked away a couple of times ( From arguments ) which is something I’d never have done years ago.”
And Pablo added that its not easy living with 70 people who have mental illnesses, and says there’s bound to be problems sometimes, but Pablo handles it better now, and says that since he’s been attending church, he’s more humble, calm and at peace.
Paul, one of the people who help lead The Freedom Forum, says about Pablo. “like all new Christians, Pablo is in a transitionary period. I’ve seen a real change in him since he started coming to the group. When he first used to come he would often fall asleep during the bible study, because he regularly gets insomnia. Gradually though he’s seemed to start having more energy and now sometimes helps in the kitchen, making teas and coffees for the group and putting away chairs after. He was also very quiet when he first started attending, but has gradually started to open up more in conversations with people.”
Paul added, “Tara my wife, who also helps lead the group, usually buys snacks for the group each week, like sandwich stuff, sausage rolls, crisps and cakes etc, and now Pablo sometimes insists of paying for the snacks for the group and has also given Tara money for petrol, as she’s the main person who picks people up from Canterbury House to bring people to the group and she drops them home after.”
Paul also says, “When I found out that Pablo was an ex armed robber I was stunned and so surprised. As though Pablo is quite a cool character, he is also very softly spoken and comes across as very gentle in spirit. He is also very likeable and I’m sure God has got good plans for his future.”
Pablo is hoping to do some voluntary work soon and has recently had a couple of interviews with an organisation about doing some volunteering to help people with mental illness.
I asked Pablo if there was anything he’d like to say to anyone reading this article and he replied, “I would tell them not to get into a situation where they turn into someone they’re not, cos its so easy. It only takes one or two problems, and that will happen. Especially people that are really young. I’d tell them not to take drugs. Its true what everyone says to you that it only ends one way. It does. So other than that, just take life as it comes, don’t strive for what you can’t get, just be happy with what you’ve got, and try to do it legally, and maybe with The Lords help as well.


By Paul Warwick

God not only saved Julies soul, but also saved her and her husband Malcom from being possibly killed by gangsters. Malcom was a large scale drug dealer at the time and had fifty-eight-thousand pounds worth of cocaine stolen from his car. This meant that he was in debt to the gangsters, and to show they meant business about what was owed to them, they murdered one of Malcom’s friends.
Julie and Malcom were terrified, and as a new Christian, Julie helped with one last drug transaction, leaving Twelve-thousand pounds worth of cannabis in a bin for the gangsters to pick up. And Malcom had also done a few other deals to pay them, but this still left them in thirty-thousand pounds of debt.
About this time, Malcom went into Yeldall Manor, a Christian drugs rehab, but mainly to hide in there and get away from the gangsters. And Malcom later became Christian in there. God also worked out a quick housing transfer for Julie and her three children to make a fresh start in a new area, where they were safe. Regarding the move, Julie says, “I needed a housing transfer and I said to The Lord in prayer that I wanted it to be in South Croydon and that I wanted it to be in a proper road, perhaps by the end of a cul-de-sac. I asked for it to be semidetached. I wanted three bedrooms. I wanted a bathroom bigger than the average size bathroom. And I asked for a garden six times the size ( Of her old tiny garden). And I said I wanted curtains up at all the windows ( Because she was still scared of the gangsters looking for her ).
Amazingly, God answered Julies prayer and the house was exactly all the those things that she specifically asked for. It was all spot on. Julie and Malcom were later able to buy the property and get a mortgage.
Julie hadn’t had a good start in life and she’d had an unhappy childhood. She says, “When I was born I was number five of six children. I was very uncertain about why I was here and what was my purpose. I didn’t feel like my parents wanted me around and my dad told me that my mum only wanted four children, and I was number five. And my dad hadn’t had any sisters or anything and he was not really very good with girls and he didn’t seem to like me being around very much, and I think I grew up with that being upon me, thinking that I was in the way. I started taking drugs when I was 12 years old and I think my searching back to wondering why, leads me that, that I just didn’t feel that I should have been here. I started taking cannabis and glue sniffing, and that lead on to amphetamines and by the time I was 15 I was injecting heroin.”
Julie says that she sought her acceptance by being seen as cool. As a teenager she hung around with older people, and while people her own age often stayed at home, she was out all the time taking drugs and being daring, doing things like watching horror films at the cinema while tripping on LSD. She felt this made her friends look up to her.
One day though she injected an elephant tranquillizer, and ended up seriously ill in hospital with hepatitis B. Her liver swelled up to three times its size, and for three months she was so drained and incapacitated that she could barely lift her arms. It was then that she had a vision of Christ, which at the time she put down to delirium, due to all the drugs she’d taken for years.
Julie says, “I actually I saw a vision of Jesus, or it may have been an angel, but this Jesus or an angel said, are you ready to come now? And I was saying, no, no, no, no, no, I’m not ready to come and if you make me well I’ll work for you and I’ll this and that. And the next day I began to get well.”
In hindsight Julie now believes that this was a real spiritual experience of an encounter with God. She was 19 at this time. Julie says though that having taken drugs for years had started to affect her mental health, the initial things like having extreme paranoia and a distrust of people.
Later Julie began regularly using cocaine and ended up in hospital as a result of becoming psychotic. But despite all the problems that drugs had caused her, she still felt a pull and an attraction to taking drugs.
At the same time Julie was also searching spiritually. She’d read the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, and also mixed with witches and dabbled in the occult, reading tarot cards to people, and going to parties where people would hang cross’s upside down. She’d actually said the Christian salvation prayer at the age of 16, when her older brother Steve had become a Christian and told Julie that if she gave her life to Jesus it would make her life better. But though she prayed the salvation prayer, she didn’t feel any different, and automatically dismissed the Christian faith as not being real.
Years later when Julie had by now had three young children and was pregnant with her fourth, she started attending a mother and toddlers group at a church and met Maureen, who was also a friend of Julies brother Steve.
Julie says, “Maureen was a Christian, and I was anti Christian and I was anti Jesus, because I didn’t see if there was a God I’d have been not wanted. So I didn’t believe there was a loving God. And this Christian was kind of hounding me and hanging out with me and I was trying my best not to like her, but actually she was quite an attractive personality and she would make me laugh and she was just really nice. She came round and we’d do things in my house, like her helping me with curtains or doing a bit of washing up.”
Julie added, “Maureen was ok, and was probably the only person I’d let in my house who wasn’t a drug user, because I didn’t want people to kind of tell on me for taking drugs when I was supposed to be looking after my children.”
“Maureen also used to read pieces of bible to me and I would put up with it. One day I went round her house having tea and her husband said, look I’m fed up with all the conversations we’ve had, basically you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re going to hell and that’s that. So I was furious with that and swore at him and I went to leave the house. So Maureen gave me a book and said, could you just read this page, and the book was Basic Christianity by John Stott. And I took the book from her because I felt a bit guilty actually because I’d just sworn at her husband, and she had always been so nice to me, and I left and went home.”
When Julie got home she saw that Malcolm had kicked in her letter box, smashed up her phone and done things to the house. Malcolm wasn’t a Christian at this point, and like Julie had been, he was very anti Christian and hated Maureen and the fact that Julie was spending time with her.
Julie then decided that she was going to end her life by committing suicide. She planned though to make it look like she’d died from an accident, as she didn’t want the children to think that she didn’t love them.
When she was thinking about all this she was sitting up on her bed and her hand suddenly flopped down to the side and touched the book that Maureen had given her and as an automatic reaction she picked up the book and opened it to the page Maureen had asked her to read, and it was the Christian salvation prayer, which she repeated. Unlike the first time though when she’d said the salvation prayer, this time was different.
Julie says, “When I said the prayer the room suddenly became light. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of being loved, of security. I was kind of stoned in a way, but it was like a stoned that was really pure. But here I was, not having taken anything, but feeling completely right.”
Julie was four months pregnant at the time and because she’d been taking drugs through her pregnancy, she feared her baby had died because she hadn’t felt it move and she said to Jesus, “I think my baby’s dead so if you are there please make my baby move. And the next moment the baby moved from one side of the womb to the other.” And Julie unmistakably felt this. And she just knew that Jesus was real.
From that moment Julie never took drugs again. And she never had any withdrawal symptoms, even though she’d also been taking Valium daily for a long time, she just stopped taking all drugs instantly and felt well. She’s now been clean for more than 20 years.
Julie and Malcom got married after they’d become Christians. And Malcom started his own painting and decorating business and Julie has worked for The London City Mission, Christ Central Church as an outreach worker, and later trained to work there as a pregnancy crisis counsellor. She now works in mental health for South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, and is also employed as an outreach worker for The Jericho Road Project at King Church in Catford.


People with mental illness are often referred to as survivors, and indeed this is often an
appropriate label, as a lot of mentally ill people struggle to cope with their illness and day to
day living. This isn’t always the case though, and a lot of mentally ill people slowly get out of
their survival mode and over a period of time, sometimes many years, they get more on top
of their illness and no longer function in a barely coping state and go on to lead lives that
are flourishing, as a lot of people do get better.
Bobby ( Not his real name ) is 49. He was first diagnosed with having a chemical
imbalance, then about fifteen years ago, shortly after his mother died he was diagnosed
with schizophrenia, and he spent a short period of time in hospital and his medication was
changed to Olanzapine.
Bobby has been a keen photographer for many years, and as he gradually got better he
gained a City in Guilds qualification in photography, then in 2004 he graduated from
Croydon college with a BA in photo media.
Whilst studying for his degree, Bobby worked occasional shifts in an after school club for
young children, then after he got his degree he began to work at the club each weekday
from 3.30 to 6 Pm.
Bobby is also a Christian and he feels that going to church really helps him with his illness,
as worship, praise and praying lifts his spirits and helps him to feel peace. A peace that
counteracts some of the negative and oppressive thoughts he experiences due to illness.
At the start of January 2011, Bobby secured a full time work placement at a large
insurance company, where he works in the post room. He was initially employed on a one

year contract, but since then he’s now been employed permanently and has been enrolled
by the company into a pension plan.
Bobby also has a passion for music, and having a full time job has helped him to purchase
an upright piano costing two and a half thousand pounds. He also recently invested in
expensive camera equipment, is a member of his local camera club, and he has teamed up
with a filmmaker friend and will be the cameraman on a short film soon, and its likely he
may team up to be the cameraman to make longer films with his friend in the future.
Bobby is an inspiration, especially to mentally ill people, as his life demonstrates that its
possible to achieve high goals and lead a happy, thriving life, despite schizophrenic illness.


I was 12 years old when I first started sniffing glue, gas and solvents. These things made me
feel high and made me have hallucinations, sometimes good, sometimes bad.
By the age of 14 I also started smoking cannabis and taking LSD, and again, sometimes I
had good trips and sometimes bad ones, a bit like horror films. By this time I’d also been
regularly involved in crime for a few years or more and I’d do things like steal cars,
burglaries and even Creeping, where we would break into houses whilst the owners were in
bed sleeping.
In my experience drug taking and crime often go hand in hand, and if you’re mixing in
circles where people take drugs, its likely that some of those people will also be committing
crime. And if its your mates that are doing this, chances are you’ll get influenced to join in.
And if you commit crimes it’s likely you’ll end up getting arrested. In my own case I started
having regular court cases from the age of 13.
By the age of 14 I was put in a children’s home by a court, and at this age I finally got
excluded from school and instead I had to start attending an intermediate treatment centre,
which was like a unit for young offenders. And I remember at the children’s home that we
would sometimes lock ourselves in the bathroom and smoke joints.
By the age of 15 I also started doing violent street robberies, and aggravated burglaries
where we would force ourselves into peoples houses and confront the owners with knives
and other weapons. At this time I also started taking the drug Speed as well, and nearly
every day I’d also be drinking in pubs. I also started selling Speed. And me and my friends
would often take it to stay awake at night so we could go Creeping.

One night we went Creeping and got chased by the police, then later arrested by them,
and my best friend Wayne stabbed a police women twice in the arm when she tried to
arrest him. He got an eighteen month sentence for this, and would have got a lot longer,
but he was only 14 at the time of the crime.
After we’d got arrested I was sent to Latchmere House remand centre, which was a
prison for young people between the age of 15 and 21. And I was surprised that even in
prison there were people taking drugs, with inmates smuggling in cannabis and even drugs
like heroin. Inmates smuggled drugs in by pushing the cling film wrapped drugs into their
anus or by swallowing them and then sifting through their excrement. And by keeping the
drugs in their anus’s they could avoid them being discovered in cell and strip searches.
I was in the remand centre for about five weeks, then I was sent to another open unit at
Red Hill in surrey, and they prepared reports on me for the judge, who was to sentence me
for crimes like burglary. The judge then sentenced me to another intermediate treatment
centre, but this one I’d live at for several weeks for the first part of it, and later that year I’d
be back there for another two weeks to complete the program.
The I.T centre was in Harpendon, in Hertfordshire, and I completed the three weeks then
came home, but shortly after I appeared in court for an old burglary charge and I was
sentenced to three months in a detention centre.
Send detention centre in surrey was known as the short sharp shock. It was a military
style regime and we had to march everywhere, do outside farm type work, and we had to
do intense physical exercise twice daily, that included field runs and circuit training.
I got released from D.C after six and a half weeks, and I was extremely fit. And I went
back to crime straight away. Then I did the last two weeks of the Harpendon I.T program,
but it wasn’t rehabilitating me as I took cannabis back there and smoked it with the other

kids on the program and one night I sneaked out in the early hours of the morning and went
One of the reasons why young people commit crime is because they’re bored and crime
is exciting. People often commit crime as well due to peer group pressure. They want to be
accepted by their friends, so they join in with them. And the reasons why young people
often take drugs, is for the same reasons, but also because drugs provide escapism and
initially taking drugs make you feel good.
Another thing that negatively affected me when I was growing up was the fact that my
dad was an alcoholic, who sometimes hit my mum, and I can remember seeing my dad
punch my mum in the face on two different occasions, the first time when I was only six
years old. I can also remember once being in bed at night frightened as I listened to my
mum screaming and crying whilst my dad attacked her after he’d came home drunk. My
dad eventually stopped being violent when he was older, but the damage was already done.
And in defence of my dad, I can honestly say that most of the time my dad was colourful
character, very funny, kind and generous. He also worked hard to provide for my mum, me
and my two younger brothers. And when he was violent, it was usually when he was under
the influence of alcohol.
I remember years later one of my friends I was in prison with said, “When you were a kid,
you always looked so serious, like you had the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
Several months after I was released from detention centre I was arrested for three
robberies and sentenced to ten months youth custody. I spent most of this sentence in
Rochester Youth Custody Centre in Kent, and whilst there I regularly smoked cannabis,
firstly when I was in a dormitory, then when I was moved to a cell on B Wing after me and
several friends had tried to start a riot.

I got into quite a few fights when I was in Rochester, mainly because I was only a 15 year
old, little skinny kid, and people tried to bully me, but after a while when people realised I’d
stand up for myself and fight back, not many people tried to bully me anymore.
I had a six day home-leave from Rochester shortly before my release date, and on home
leave I met up with my friend David and we committed various crimes. I also came back
from home leave with cannabis on me.
I completed my sentence on 6 th July 1984, and the next day I was arrested for stabbing a
man in an attempted street robbery. I was remanded in custody and on the 14 th December
that year, whilst I was still 16, I was sentenced to be detained for eight years.
I started my sentence on the convicted wing at Latchmere House, then after a couple of
months I was sent to Aylesbury Youth Custody Centre. The minimum sentence in Aylesbury
was three and a half years, and the longest sentences were things like double life, and some
inmates there were serving recommended sentences of over twenty years. There were a lot
of murderers there, bank robbers and rapists etc.
Later that year I went to the court of appeal in The Strand in London, and I smuggled a bit
of cannabis in there and I smoked a couple of joints there with people in the cells. I then
went into the dock stoned and the three high judges there reduced my eight year sentence
to six years. I was a bit disappointed as I’d hoped to get my sentence reduced on appeal to
at least five years, but I quickly recovered. I even said thank you to the judges after they’d
reduced it, and they looked at me a bit shocked, as you’re not supposed to talk to them.
When I’d got eight years just before Christmas the year before, after the judge had
sentenced me I gave him a little wave from the dock and wished him a happy Christmas. I
remember that a lot of people in the court started laughing. I was just being defiant and
cocky and wanted the judge to know that he hadn’t broken me.

By the end of 1985 I was growing angrier and more defiant. I started assaulting and
attacking prison officers, was shipped out to different prisons, and was often put in the
solitary confinement block as punishment. I was also often restrained by gangs of prison
officers and sometimes I was stripped naked and beaten up by them. It made me hate them
more and more. And sometimes I was in the block for a couple of months at a time.
In Feltham Youth Custody Centre I attacked a couple of prison officers on different
occasions and because I was so often violent the prison authorities tried to get me
transferred to Broadmoor, which was a maximum security mental hospital. I was
interviewed by a psychiatrist from there, and thankfully he said that I wasn’t mad.
I eventually got shipped out of Feltham the day I’d escaped from the block exercise yard
there and I climbed up onto the prison roof and staged a four hour protest, simply because I
was bored. I’d have probably stayed up there longer, but a lot of the time I was up there it
was pouring with rain.
After the roof top protest I was shipped out to Chelmsford Youth Custody Centre that
night. And on Christmas day there, 1986, I chinned an officer and a group of officers then
dragged me to the punishment block and battered me.
When I came out of the block about a month later, I carried on doing some education
classes in the prison and when I showed the English teacher a short story I’d wrote, she
seemed surprised and amazed that I could write so well, and she enrolled me to take an RSA
English exam, and with only a little bit of preparation and study, I passed the exam and it
was my first ever qualification. I was 19.
About this time I made my first attempt at writing a novel. I then got transferred back to
Aylesbury again. And I carried on doing education classes. I learned to touch type and
gained another RSA qualification, this time in Business Studies. And I started becoming

interested in filmmaking after finding a book about screenwriting and other books about
filmmakers in the prison library.
I got released on parole in September 1988 after I’d served four years and two months of
my sentence. I was 20. When I got out I saw that many of my old friends that used to take
cannabis and soft drugs were now addicted to drugs like heroin, cocaine, crack and ecstasy.
And I’ve learned that soft drugs often lead to people taking harder drugs in the future.
I got arrested again for burglary and possession of fire arms after I’d been out of jail for
about six months, and me and my co-defendant David were remanded in custody. I was 21
and it was my first time in an adult prison.
My friend David was a heroin addict and would smuggle it in on his visits, and whilst
sharing a cell with him I tried heroin for the first time. And for nearly two years that I was
back in prison, I took it regularly, sometimes smuggling it in on my own visits and I brought
back heroin and cannabis from home leaves near the end of my sentence. And whilst I was
on home leave I also smoked crack for the first time and took it many more times after that.
I got released from jail on December 13 th 1990, when I was nearly 23 years old. I trained
in Video Production at Battersea Basement Studios for the second time. I’d originally
studied there for a couple of months when I’d previously been on parole.
I also regularly continued taking cannabis, heroin, cocaine and crack, though unlike most
of my friends I weren’t an addict, but I was on the fringes of it all. I wrote an article about
my experiences of being a crack user and it was published in The Guardian, so now, as well
as being a filmmaker I’d also became a journalist.
Approaching the summer of 1991 I started regularly also taking the drug ecstasy in
nightclubs, then I got arrested with my friend Wayne for an aggravated burglary and we
were remanded in custody. And for a few months on remand we smoked cannabis every

day and took ecstasy once or twice a week. I then told Wayne that I didn’t want to take
drugs anymore and Wayne moved out of the cell. Shortly after this I became a Christian.
I’d started to go to church in Brixton prison and I found Christian books on the landing
and started reading them. Then I found a Christian pamphlet tract and I became a Christian
by repeating the salvation prayer on it. I’d invited Jesus into my heart and promised to live
for and serve him for the rest of my life. In return my soul is saved and will live for eternity.
And serving Christ isn’t like being in a slave relationship, its simply about becoming less
selfish, by serving and helping other people, and spreading the gospel by reaching out to
people with Jesus’s love. And Christ wants everyone to be saved, which is why Christians
evangelise in him.
When I’d became a Christian and leading up to it, I’d started to experience a spiritual
awakening, my conscience came alive for the first time in many years, and from having a
heart filled with so much anger and hate, I was suddenly filled with peace and love instead.
It was the first time I’d been in prison without getting into any fights or assaulting anyone. I
started becoming more sensitive and instead of hating a lot of the inmates and staff, I felt
love and care for them.
By the time I became a Christian though I was already starting to become mentally ill, and
I was released on parole after I’d been in prison a year and within a couple of months I had a
breakdown and I was hospitalized with schizophrenia.
I believe I became mentally ill because of all the drugs I’d taken. And I know that its not
just hard drugs that can cause mental illness, and that also soft drugs like cannabis and
speed can cause psychosis. I believe though that it was the drug ecstasy that caused me the
most damage and I believe I started becoming ill also because I was burning myself out by
writing so many prison letters, and for the first time in years I’d started to open up about all

the horrific, shocking and painful things I’d experienced since childhood, and there were
times when I’d break down in tears as I wrote letters.
Having a breakdown was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever experienced. When I became
ill I believed that I was the antichrist and that God wanted to kill and destroy me. I thought
that the Mafia, the I.R.A, the London underworld and other people and organisations were
going to kill me. I also believed the police wanted to frame me for murders and I’d get a life
sentence and I’d kill myself in jail, and I suffered from other extremely painful and
embarrassing fears and delusions. I stopped eating and drinking for three days at a time,
and I went down to about eight stone in weight, and I’m six foot tall. I also stopped washing
and shaving for weeks and I walked miles and miles around the streets, often crying, and I
was so exhausted that I’m surprised I didn’t collapse. I also did things like drag a knife
across my stomach and I once even smashed a bottle over my own head as I was so
I was in Springfield psychiatric hospital on three occasions, twice on a section. And
amongst other things I was locked up and forcibly drugged. I was discharged from
Springfield late in 1993, and since then I remained on antipsychotic medication. I’ve
stopped taking medication several times since then, but after a short while I’ve started
getting ill again, so had to continue taking it.
I’d abandoned my Christian faith soon after I’d been released from prison in 1992, but
God hadn’t abandoned me. I started going to church again over six years later at end of
1998 and before that Christians stopped me in the street everywhere. Complete strangers
gave me their phone numbers and invited me to church. I always declined their offers
though. One day though I saw a banner advertising a Christian healing meeting, and I
attended and went forward to give my life to Christ again.

When I rededicated my life to Christ, my Christian conscience was awakened again, and
from then onwards I started making an effort to live honestly, tell the truth and I stopped
doing things like cheating social security, and I started telling the truth and being accurate
on forms, questionnaires and in writing articles etc. Living truthfully became important to
me again. And more than anything it also became freeing.
Shortly after I recommitted my life to Jesus a guy called Steve Nichols from The London
City Mission rang my intercom and I invited him into my flat. He told me a bit about
churches in my local area and I started attending a church where he was one of the
ministers. I then met Tom Torok, who was also a minister there, and his wife Aideen and
they invited me to dinner with them and their young family. Shortly after meeting them I’d
told Tom that I was a writer, but I didn’t have a computer. Tom and Aideen later then gave
me a key to their house so I could use their son’s computer to do my writing. They knew
that I was an ex long term prisoner and a schizophrenic, but they trusted me and I found this
mind blowing.
Tom and Aideen also watched my the old videos I’d made and encouraged to study
filmmaking at college. And since then I’ve studied filmmaking at college and university and
I’ve got a City and Guilds and a HNC qualification in film production. I’ve also written
seventeen mainly slim books now, and have so far had three of them published as ebooks
by Chipmunka publishers, under my pen name Christophrenic. I’ve also made many short
films now, ranging from a music video, to documentaries and dramas, and I’ve got over sixty
films on Youtube, which also include lots of home video and family clips, and over a period
of many years I’ve also filmed lots of weddings, baptisms and other social occasions. In the
past couple of years I’ve also occasionally worked as a film extra. And one of my ambitions
is to one day write and direct a micro budget feature film.

I also met my wife Tara when I started attending Penge family church and I’ve been
married to her for more than twelve years now and I’ve got two grown up step children and
two daughters age 10 and 8.
The medication I’m on does a lot to make me feel mentally well and balanced. But some
aspects of the illness and side effects of the medication are horrible. I often feel physically
unwell and sick, usually for up to a few hours after waking up, and sometimes I vomit. I also
spend a lot of time feeling extremely tired and I’ve got weak concentration. I often feel
mentally inhibited and I’ve got very little mental and physical stamina, so I feel very weak
and debilitated sometimes. I also sometimes experience extreme anxiety, which makes me
feel tense a lot and afraid.
There are other times though that I feel the opposite of all this. When I feel energised,
bright and clear in my thoughts, and physically, mentally and spiritually free, so I feel there
is a balance.
I regret taking drugs when I was younger, because its made me ill for so many years. I
realise things could be worse though. I know five people who’ve died of drugs overdoses. I
know three people who’ve died in motorbike accidents, two of whom may have been on
drugs at the time. I know three people who’ve been murdered. I’ve also got three friends
who’ve served life sentences. I’ve got a friend who killed himself in prison. And another
friend who used to take drugs killed himself on new years day 2014. A lot of people I grew
up with are still on drugs and in and out of prison.
When I think about things like that, I can only be thankful that God has got me out of
such a destructive lifestyle and thank God that I’ve got a wife, family, and so many new
friends, and even though I still suffer from mental illness, I’m so glad that I’m alive.


PATRICK Boothe, a 60 year old, Croydon based reggae music artist has recently produced his
latest independent album, The Lion In Me, which is released under the name of Bobby
Sparks, who sings lead vocals on all the tracks.
The album is Patricks fifth collaboration using Bobby as the vocalist, and Patrick
produced, recorded and wrote all the songs that Bobby sings.
Patrick and Bobby first teamed up shortly after meeting in 2006. At the time Patrick was
living in Sylvan Hill, in Crystal Palace, South East London, and Bobby was living close. And
Patricks wife Marcia and their sons kept telling Patrick, “There’s a guy who walks past our
house singing and his voice is incredible.”
Patrick had never seen Bobby though, until a twist of fate, they both met each other in
boot camp during X Factors 2006 competition. Both of them had entered as singers and got
through the first round and they went to Sharron Osborns house, but failed to get selected
to continue.
When cabs were called for the artists who’d been voted out, Patrick and Bobby learned
they lived minutes away from each other as they both wanted a cab to Crystal Palace, so
they shared a cab, and it was then Patrick realised that Bobby was the person who his wife
and kids had been talking about, who had the incredible singing voice and who used to walk
past their house singing.
Patrick then said to Bobby, “Before X Factor finishes, we’ll already have an album out.”
And it was true, as within one month they had an independently produced album called
Changing Times, that Patrick created by himself, and Bobby sang vocals.

Now all these years later, they’ve recently released their fifth album together under
Bobby Sparks name called The Lion In Me, which is also the title of first single from the
Not only does Patrick produce the music, record it and write the songs for Bobby’s
albums, but Patrick also creates music videos, sometimes writing, producing, directing,
filming and editing them, and he is completely self taught.
More recently Patricks has been creating a lot of his music videos from using
international stock footage clips and some of his videos also feature special effects, again
what he’s taught himself to do.
Patrick first got into music as a child in church. He used to sing and taught himself to play
drums and guitar. His dad also made a couple of albums when Patrick was a child and
Patrick featured on them.
As a young man Patrick was also a singer in a band called Midnight Express, and they
were the warm up bands at concerts for people like Billy Ocean and Marvin Gay.
After a few years though the band split and to pay the bills Patrick became a backing
singer and featured on the records of many famous people, and for a while he lived in
America. He also had some singles released as a solo artist on Streetwave records in the
early 80s.
Patrick was originally a soul singer and created soul music, but after living in Jamaica for a
while, he got the reggae influence, which later led Patrick to produce the first Bobby Sparks
Although Patricks main genre is reggae music now, his work is somewhat experimental
and different from a lot of other reggae artists. For example on some of his tracks he mixes
rock guitar, as well as other sounds you don’t usually hear in reggae music.

Patrick also feels blessed to have met Bobby, and says that Bobby is one of the most
unique and versatile vocalists he’s ever met and worked with. He says Bobby has an
amazing vocal range and can sing anything and adapt to any kind of track.
Patrick currently lives in New Addington, in the borough of Croydon, with his wife Marcia,
who he married in 2002, and they have five children, two of whom have grown up and left
home now.
The songs that Patrick writes are very deep and spiritual and Patrick has a deep belief in
God. He knows God lives inside of him and his creativity is a demonstration of Gods power,
and he knows his music is Gods expression. Sometimes he’ll make a record and video, and
not only does it amaze other people, but also it amazes himself, and sometimes afterwards
he’ll ask himself, “Wow. How did I do that?”
He knows though that he is simply Gods vessel of the creativity that flows through and
sometimes bursts out of him. And Patrick is extremely prolific, and he often stays awake all
night working on tracks in his home studio and making and editing his music videos.
To find Patricks music go to For videos go to Patrick
Boothe’s youtube channel. And you can get Bobby Sparks new album The Lion In Me, and
Bobby’s previous albums from iTunes and CD Baby.


From bank robber to Christian

MARY Kay Beard was once one of the F.B.I’s most wanted fugitives, for crimes including cracking safes and armed robberies of banks. The Mafia had also put a contract on her life as she’d ripped them off in a diamond heist.

In 1972 at the age of 27, Mary was sentenced to 21 years in prison. And during five months in solitary confinement she began to remember bible scriptures she’d learned as a child in Sunday school, and she began to attend a Sunday school class in Tutwiler prison in Alabama at 7 Am. It was the only time she was allowed out of her cell.

In prison Mary began to wonder if God would save her or was it too late, then whilst reading a Gideon bible, God led her to the passage Ezekiel 36 v 26, which states, ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’

That scripture was a wake up call for Mary and she returned to the faith of her childhood.

Mary hadn’t started out in life bad. She was one of nine children, growing up on a farm with a godly mother and an abusive alcoholic father, so she saw her early life as being a bit schizophrenic. Her mother was taking her and her brothers and sisters to church, but her fathers influence was bad and Mary was very bitter and angry and felt resentment towards him.

Mary graduated from high school at the age of 15, and completed training to be a nurse at 18. Then her life took a bizarre and unexpected turn when she met Paul on a blind date, fell head over heels in love, and married Paul nine days later.

Paul was a music producer, which was fairly respectable, but he was also a bank robber, a master safe-cracker and a gambling addict.

Mary had been married before, but it had only lasted a short time and had ended in divorce. Mary had two children from this first marriage.

Her second marriage to Paul though had brought her into a completely different world. Within a short time she was assisting Paul in his life of crime. First in minor gambling cheats, then safe-cracking, and then in armed robberies of banks. And at one point she even staged a prison break to free Paul.

Paul left Mary though when she was hospitalized with an operable cancer tumour, and Mary felt very hurt, bitter and angry about this and she teamed up with a couple of Pauls old partners in crime, and continued committing serious crimes which led to her being hunted by the F.B.I, who eventually arrested her. She was charged with 11 federal and 35 state counts of grand larceny and armed robbery.

Mary was surprisingly paroled after serving just six years of her 21 year sentence. And because of her success with educational classes in the prison, she won a scholarship to Auburn university and gained a BA and a Masters degree in counselling.

In 1982 Mary was recruited by Chuck Colson, who’d set up the ministry Prison Fellowship and she was asked to set up a Christmas project for inmates. In the six Christmases she’d been behind bars, she’d seen that when the women inmates had been given small gifts of things like toiletries by visiting Christians, the inmates would then pass these small gifts to their children. These women ranged from shoplifters, to prostitutes, to murderers, but they all still had a heart and love for their children, and they would give their children the only presents they could.

So Mary was then inspired to set up the Christian charity Angel Tree. This meant that people could buy presents for the inmates children, so that they would receive presents from their incarcerated parents on Christmas Day. And they were presents the children wanted and were bought from the children’s wish list. The whole aim was to make the children feel loved by their parents at Christmas. And from the Christian point of view it helped the children and parents feel the love of Christ during the Christmas period.

The first year that Angel Tree was set up, it was piloted in just one state, and 556 children received gifts that year. The following year it expanded to 12 states and by 2012, 364,198 children had received gifts from Angel Tree in the USA, but also due to Angel Tree spreading globally, more than 6.3 Million children around the world have now received Christmas gifts through the charity.

Mary met a former prisoner, Don Beard, and married him on January 29th, 1984, exchanging vows in a chapel at Tutwiler prison, where she’d previously been locked up.

Mary and Don also founded several other ministries, then Don died in 2006, and Mary died in April 2016. Her legacy though continues. Angel Tree is still thriving and serving inmates children around the world, helping them feel loved by their parents, and helping them feel loved by the saviour Christ.


Daz’s testimony
By Paul Warwick

SOME of The Bible is written by murderers. This may shock some people and enlighten
others, as they will see the redemptive nature of God. A God who can change the worst of
sinners into the greatest of saints. Quite simply, God can make bad people become good.
In 2007 Daz appeared at The Old Baily and was found guilty of manslaughter on the
grounds of diminished responsibility. He was subsequently locked up for four years. And
now at the age of 27, he is a Christian, married and is a father to a one year old boy. He has
two jobs, and runs two Bible study groups called The Freedom Forum. One of the groups is
at Christ Church Anerley, in South East London, and the other is at Christ Church Sidcup.
The groups are for people who’ve been in prison, psychiatric hospitals or trouble with the
police. Six of the people who attend the group at Anerley are schizophrenics. And three of
the people who attend this group have killed someone, including one guy who’d spent many
years in Broadmoore.
Daz became fixated with violence from a very young age. His uncle had taken him to see
a Millwall v Manchester City football match. He remembers being hyped up and excited by
the crowd, and he witnessed football fans ripping up seats and throwing them into the
stands of rival supporters. And even though Daz was a little kid, he was gripped by these
images, and years later he became a violent football thug supporting Millwall.
Daz followed Millwall to other towns and cities, and would cause trouble, fighting other
fans, smashing windows and generally going on the rampage, and there were times when
he got arrested.

At this stage in Daz’s life, he was fascinated by violent criminals and programs like Crime
Watch, and it made him want to be like the violent people who were portrayed in the
program, and he thought that if people feared him he would have respect, which was
something Daz always craved and wanted.
One Friday night he’d been hanging around the streets with a gang of teenage friends
and drinking alcohol. A man had then verbally had a go at Daz and made him look silly in
front of his friends. Daz then ran all the way home and got a hammer and then he found
the guy who’d made him look small, and Daz then smashed him over the head with the
hammer. Incidences like this gave Daz a reputation and made people fear him, and this was
what Daz wanted.
One day Daz decided that he needed to start carrying a knife and he bought five Stanley
knives for him and his friends to take to another Millwall match up North. During a fight
between both sets of fans, Daz used his Stanley knife to slash some ones face.
On the train back to London Daz and his Millwall friends were hyped up and buzzing as
they talked about the violence they’d committed. But after a while the mood changed and
it went quiet, and Daz suddenly felt as sense of emptiness, like something was missing from
his life.
Daz then started dating a girl who is now his wife. When he started going out with her,
he felt very protective, obsessive and paranoid about her. He heard one night that a club
bouncer had made a sexual comment to her. A couple of days later Daz was drinking in the
club and a fight broke out with Daz and his friends fighting the bouncers. Daz and his
friends then rushed off from the club to get weapons, then when they returned a fight
broke out again and Daz was armed with a garden pitch fork and was trying to stab a
bouncer in the face with it.

A little while after that, Daz’s girlfriend started asking him to come to church, and that
really baffled him. For one, he didn’t believe in God, and he thought that if God did exist,
‘Why would he want to know a scum bag like me?’
The only dealing that Daz had had with a church before, was when he burgled one and
stole the DJ equipment that they used for a club there.
Daz’s girlfriend kept asking him to come to church and persuaded him to attend an Alpha
course, where he could learn the basics about Christianity and ask questions. Daz had then
said to his girlfriend, ‘If I do the Alpha course, and I find out that there’s no God, I don’t ever
want you to mention God to me again, and I will never ever come to church with you again’.
As the Alpha course was still going on, Daz was still continuing to get into trouble. One
night he stabbed a guy in the intestines and the guy was in hospital for a week, and Daz was
charged with GBH and was due to appear at Woolwich Crown Court at a later date.
Daz was really happy when it got to the last day of the Alpha course, and he thought that
he’d never have to set foot in a church again, and he’d only been attending the course to
keep his girlfriend happy, and he still didn’t believe in God.
On the last day of the Alpha course, a couple who are now Daz’s friends, asked him if he
wanted prayer to receive The Holy Spirit. Daz then started giggling and rolling his eyes back,
thinking, ‘These people are crazy’.
After the couple had asked Daz if they could pray for him, Daz simply said, ‘No thanks’,
and he started walking towards the door. His girlfriend then stopped him and said, ‘Daz if
you don’t go up and get prayer, how are you ever going to know if God is real or not?’
Daz then very reluctantly went forward for prayer and he stood there for about five
minutes and in his own words he said, ‘He felt like a right plum’. And he felt embarrassed,
imagining what his friends would think to see him standing in a church waiting for prayer.

Daz says he wasn’t really listening to what the couple were praying for him and he was
just about to open his eyes and turn around and say to his girlfriend, ‘That’s it. I told you it
was a load of crap. God is not real’.
Then all of a sudden Daz felt this incredible force surging through his body. It was the
most incredible physical presence he’d ever felt. It was so overpowering, and after a while
he snapped himself out of it and said to the couple praying for him, ‘I don’t need any more
evidence. I know God exists now’.
Daz says that it was exactly what he needed. He needed God to show him that he’s real.
And that’s exactly what he did. Daz had felt the presence of God in an unmistakeable and
powerful way.
For about the next two weeks Daz felt like his life was transformed. He stopped carrying
a knife and he felt an overwhelming sense of love. He no longer felt that something was
missing in his life, and he felt like God had filled the emptiness in his heart.
One night though Daz went to a nightclub with his old friends and him and his mates got
into a fight with some other guys, and Daz had stabbed one of them in the face with a
broken bottle. A couple of months later he ended up being charged with murder, after
another guy he’d stabbed died. Daz was 19 years old.
Daz was then locked up for four years, and during this time he was blown away by the
amount of support he received from people at his now fiancé’s church. And whilst he was
locked up he had a lot of time to study The Bible and think about God, and the guards
commented to Daz that he seemed to have real sense of peace about him.
Whilst Daz was locked up, he also studied to get his first two qualifications, two A levels,
and since he’s been released he’s passed another A level, gaining an A grade.

Daz was released in 2011 and in the summer of 2012 he married his fiancé, and in
January 2014 their son was born.
If you met Daz today, you would find it hard to believe that he was once a violent killer.
He is now 27 years old. He is tall and slim with cropped dark hair. He speaks articulately
with a strong cockney accent. And one of the first things you notice about him is that he has
a calm and gentle spirit. And its hard to believe that God can change someone so much.
But he has. Daz has changed extraordinarily, thanks to the power of a loving Jesus.
Daz’s pastor Mathew Fitter at Christ Church Anerley says about him, “Daz is now an
incredible blessing to the church, as a preacher and leader of The Freedom Forum for ex
And Daz says, “If God can change me he can change anyone. He has helped me rebuild
my life and have a love in my heart that is indescribable.”


Matthew Fitter’s testimony
By Paul Warwick

BEFORE Matthew Fitter became a Christian, he was very much into Karate and martial arts.
But he let go of this sport, shortly after he gave his life to the Lord. This was because Karate
and Christianity didn’t seem compatible to him. The mind set of martial arts caused him to
have a feeling of controlled aggression and feel ready at a moments notice to defend
himself and be violent to any attacker. Whereas being a Christian evoked in him a feeling of
having gentle peace and faith, and for Matthew the two extremes didn’t gel.
After Matthew became a Christian he became a police officer for seven years, starting as
a beat bobby, then working his way up to C.I.D and becoming a detective. When Matthew
became a policeman he initially felt unease, wondering if it was ok to be a policeman while
being a Christian, because he was arresting people who ultimately were punished by the
However, after a period of soul searching for about 18 months, he came to the
conclusion that it was ok to be a Christian police officer, and that ultimately being a
Christian made him a better policeman. For one, being a Christian meant that he was an
honest cop, who told the truth and didn’t break the rules. And two, Matthew got a chance
to share his faith with some of the people he arrested and people that came through his
police station and the court where he sometimes worked.
There was one guy that Matthew met who’d been sentenced for fraud, and Matthew was
able to have a one to one half hour chat in a cell, and Matthew then led the person to the


Lord. And Matthew says, “Actually, he sent me a letter from prison some months later,
saying just how much Jesus had changed his life.”
When Matthew worked in charge of court cells he would leave Christian Journey into Life
booklets in the bare cells. A couple of prisoners had got angry and ripped the booklets to
pieces, but other prisoners who enquired if Matt had put them there, would then have
conversations about God with him, and Matt knew that he was sowing seeds that would
later bare fruit.
Matthew had been attending church since he was very young. Before he could walk he
was pushed to church in a pram. By the age of eight he joined the church choir, though only
because he’d been told that at each wedding he sang at, he’d be paid a pound. The down
side of being in the choir though was the fact that he had to attend three church services
every Sunday. By the age of 18 he’d heard more than 1500 sermons, but despite this he
only half believed in God, and though he was committed to attending church regularly, he
wasn’t committed to living as a true believing Christian.
When Matt left home and went to college at the age of 18, he met some committed
Christians there and suddenly he realised that God wanted a personal relationship with him,
but for two years he kept God at arms length, as he wanted to live his life his own way, and
not live in a way that was pleasing to God. After hearing a sermon though his eyes were
finally unveiled and the penny dropped when he realised that Jesus had died on a cross for
him, rose again, and that by becoming a Christian Matt would be saved and would have
eternal life in heaven, and Matthew gave his life to the Lord when people were invited to
come forward for prayer.


When Matthew walked home that night after becoming a Christian, he felt an
overwhelming sense of God’s love and felt that Jesus was now living inside of him, and he
felt clean and free.
Years later, after Matthew had been in the police force, stationed in Guilford for about
seven years, him and his wife Guen, who he has two sons with, started asking God what he
wanted them to do in the future, and after a few months they felt that it was
overwhelmingly clear that God wanted them to leave their jobs and become missionary
They both joined an organisation called Youth with a mission, and after a period of
training went to Scotland and went to work in a Glasgow area called Possil Park. It was a
rough area, with a lot of crime and lots of people addicted to drugs, particularly heroin. At
the time they had an old Ford Capri, which regularly had windows smashed when petty
thieves broke into it.
On one occasion Matthew had been due to preach somewhere and stepped out of his
home to discover that his Capri had been stolen. Ironically, one of the local drug dealers
who like Matthew, said, “Don’t worry Maffew, I’ll find out who done it.” And a month later
he shouted through Matthews letter box at midnight, “Maffew. Maffew, I’ve found yer
He then took Matthew on a short drive to where Matthews Capri was and said, “I told
you I’d find out who done it. I only had to hit him once before he told me where the car
Matthew and Guen spent six years as missionaries in Glasgow, then felt it was time to
move on. Matthew then spent two years at Trinity college in Bristol and continued to work
for Youth with a mission.


Matthew has now been in ministry for 29 years and has been a pastor for 15 years. And
for the past seven and a half years he’s been the pastor at Christ Church Anerley, in South
East London, and his wife Guen is one of the worship leaders there, and one of their sons
Jonny also does a lot of work for the church.
Matthew loves being a pastor, but said that the most difficult part of this is that its not a
9 to 5 job, but more like a 24/7 occupation. Sometimes he’ll get calls from people in crisis
very late at night and in the early hours of the morning. And he’ll then need to minister and
pray for these people. People also sometimes turn up on his doorstep with problems at any
time, and sometimes people can be quite troublesome. I’e, people with addictions
desperate for money, who see Christians as a soft touch. But despite this, Matthew never
really feels on edge. As a policeman many years before, he’d had to deal with a lot of heavy
and serious stuff, including disarming knife wielding criminals. He’d also worked on serious
crime and murder investigations, and after being trained for this kind of thing, there’s not a
lot now that fazes him, so he feels that having been a policeman has helped him become a
better and stronger pastor.
Being a pastor though can be stressful at times and one thing Matt does to relax is take
part in sport. He plays football, cricket and badminton. And he enjoys watching sport on
the telly and is a big football fan of Leeds United and Crystal Palace.
Matthew says, “The best thing about being a pastor for me, is whenever I have an
opportunity, if I’m preaching or on a one to one, is actually leading someone into a
relationship with Jesus. Because I know how much Jesus changed my life, and when I see
someone give their life to Jesus, that is the most wonderful thing and privilege to be part


Matt also loves baptising people. He’s also been invited to Pakistan a couple of times to
preach and teach, and hopes to go back to Pakistan again in the future.
When I asked Matt if there was a final thing he’d like to say to anyone reading this article,
he replied, “Jesus is the one person who can totally change anybody’s life, because he really
is God, who came from heaven and for 33 years lived on earth, preached, healed the sick,
delivered people from demons, died on a cross to forgive everyone for our sins, and he’s the
one that set me free totally. And if Jesus sets you free, you’ll be free indeed.”