John’s life was a troubled mix of violence, drugs, crime and ultimately jail. There had to be a better way…?
I grew up in South Grafton, NSW in the 1950’s where I was raised as a catholic. When I was only two years old, I left home to live with my uncle. My parents were unable to cope with the growing family pressures. I was passed from carer to carer and had a range of father figures during my formative years. From my earliest memories, I had an aggressive, destructive temperament and would lash out violently when people tried to control me. I had seven sisters and grew up with a big attitude problem against women trying to tell me what to do. I attended catholic schools including a boarding school in Yamba. I hated school and rebelled violently from the start. I was also a gambler from a young age. My parents would place bets for me on the horse races.
Where did I belong?
When I was around ten years of age, my family moved to Brisbane. I refused to attend school and got acquainted with officers from juvenile aid. I had short, unhappy periods in several schools and spent considerable time in the Wilston youth hostel, the Marsden home for boys, and the Nudgee orphanage. At the age of 13 I left the orphanage and went to high school. I had a longing to be accepted and would be friendly towards the other guys. They were a bit scared of me because they knew of my rough background. I made some mates there but I still had plenty of conflicts with the school authorities and police over truancy and rebellion. I took the first chance I could to leave school and started work when I was 14. This was my first taste of ‘freedom’.
Alcohol and crime
Over the next ten years I had numerous jobs but the longest lasted only six months. I found it hard having people telling me what to do and speaking down to me. I started smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. My dad took a soft line on these behaviours despite his threats so I continued to binge drink with little fear of punishment. Friends introduced me to crime, which I took to with a flourish. My gambling was getting out of control and the crime escalated as financial needs went unmet.
Drugs and diversions
Deep down I was looking for something more. I was aware of my fits of rage and violent streak against authority. At the age of 15 I received an invitation to become a shalion monk at a kung-fu monastery. I didn’t take up that offer but did train in the martial arts eventually. By the mid 1970’s I was heavily involved with a range of different drugs including heroin but somehow managed to avoid addiction to it. I had developed a psychological dependence though. I also explored some of the eastern religions and mystics hoping for some answers and an easy way out of jail.
The downward spiral of violent crime
My first jail sentence was 6 months of weekends for assaulting a policeman. This was the beginning of the sorry downward spiral of my criminal record, culminating in a full 6 months in prison for wilful destruction of property. My times inside only served to deepen my resentment and hatred of authority. Jail was a dangerous place where I came into further conflict with other inmates. Despite a serious threat from a lifer, I emerged intact and moved down to the Gold Coast.
A turning point in my life
My life was in a mess with drug and gambling problems continuing. One night a guy gave me a leaflet that talked about Jesus dying for the wrong things I had done. After reading it through, I prayed the simple pray asking Jesus to come into my heart. I felt a sensation of something happening inside me when I did that, although I had no idea what it was at the time. Looking back, I believe that moment was the turning point of my life. Jesus had heard the cry of my heart.
Shortly after that, I met Therese, who has been a true Godsend in my life. Therese had been through a previous marriage around the age of 16 but was divorced two years later. It wasn’t long before Therese started to share my troubles. After a fight in a coast hotel, I found myself up on another assault charge. Fellow inmates had warned me about a particular judge to avoid and he was the one I stood before. I could easily have gone back to jail but was fined $300 instead, an answer to Therese’s prayers on my behalf. Eventually, we moved back to Brisbane where we took on the care of Therese’s 14-month-old son from her previous marriage.
The biggest highlight of the year for me was when Sir Wisp won the Stradbroke Handicap at odds of 77-1 and Wreckless won the feature double. I had picked both of them! Wins like this provide fleeting moments of joy amidst the many losses faced by punters. Maybe after one such loss, I recall a violent outburst when I threw my own baby son several metres through the air. Fortunately, he landed with a gentle bounce in the middle of the bed up against a brick wall. Those days were marked with depression and hopelessness. In the middle of the night, I woke up and came out into the lounge room. I feel to my knees and cried my heart out calling on the Lord for help.
Where will violence take me?
Shortly afterwards, I was involved in another fight where an associate went too far and crushed the other guy’s skull. I was horrified and wondered how far will violence take me? Where was it all going to end? I had no answers at that point. A verbal violence flowed over into my relationship with Therese who would seek refuge from my dominance with valium.
Three people pointing in the same direction
My sister had become a Christian and started to preach to me. I can’t remember anything of what she said because most of the time I was out of my head on marijuana. My brother was next and he too showed me things from the bible. I started reading this book looking for answers. At that stage, I thought there was no one who could help me. As I read the gospels, another friend came along and started to relate the things I was reading in the bible to my own life.
A journey of discovery
Leaving my family in the care of Therese’s mum, I took off on a 650km trip to Rockhampton with my new Christian friend coming along for the ride. He was unaware that the car was loaded with stolen goods to be disposed of when we got there. It was to be a journey of discovery as we talked for hours about life and the bible and how the two go together. On one occasion, we joined in at a church meeting only to be asked to leave after 10 minutes or so as it was a special member’s meeting. Normally I would have ‘objected strongly’ to such a direction but I walked out of there like a little lamb. I was awestruck at this peaceful reaction from within me and I knew that God was there and he was involved in what had happened. My normal aggressive reactions had been replaced by a gentle response, something I had never experienced before. I was 26 years old and my life was finally beginning to change.
Taking up the challenge
As I read the bible and the words of the gospels, certain passages would stand out and have a deep impact on me. I took up the challenge and started to do some of the things the bible said. I began to experience new and wonderful changes in my life. The most outstanding one for me was a loving acceptance and respect for authority. It no longer posed a threat to me as something had been taken away from my heart and love had been put in its place. I felt like a new person. It was nothing I had done, change had always been beyond me, but I knew that God was powerfully at work in my life. Jesus was the answer I’d been looking for. After two years Therese became a Christian and we got married.
I have been a Christian since 1979. Therese and I are married with seven children. Although everything hasn’t been smooth for us, we are both fully committed to our marriage. We have a shared foundation of love for God and are growing in Him day by day as we follow His direction and call upon His name, giving thanks to Him in all things.
In my early days as a Christian, I remember once trying to impress some friends. I jokingly claimed Psalm 34.6 to be the best verse in the bible without even knowing what it said. When I went looking for the verse later, I was humbled and deeply moved as I read my own life story summed up in one verse of scripture:
“This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles.”
Verse 8 goes on to say: “Taste and see that the Lord is good…”
You will know the truth
Things are not always what they seem at first. When you have tasted or experienced the words and power of God, you discover their value and you want more. In John 8:32,33 Jesus said: if you follow my teaching, you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Romans 10.9 says: “If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Come to know your Creator (animation)
The Reason (music video)