pridemoreJohn Pridmore, a member of organized crime in London in the 1980s, speaks about his conversion from a life of crime to living a committed Catholic life during the 2011 Men of Christ conference on Saturday, Feb. 19 at the Milwaukee Theatre. View and purchase photos at (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)After nearly beating a man to death outside a London nightclub, John Pridmore’s conscience finally got his attention.

“I thought I had killed him and I didn’t even care. That’s when I got scared,” Pridmore recalled.

That’s also when God entered his life. Or, more accurately, when God took over his life.

Pridmore’s story of conversion from a violent gangster to a deeply committed Catholic has been shared with millions of people worldwide through his personal appearances and books. During the week of Feb. 13, Pridmore gave several talks in the Milwaukee area, including at Catholic Memorial High School and the Men of Christ conference.

Pridmore’s devotion to God is inspiring. His story about a life transformed is riveting.

As a member of organized crime in London during the 1980s, Pridmore regularly arranged drug deals and would beat up people to maintain his reputation. He had lots of money, a penthouse apartment, sports cars, designer clothes, women and power.

“I thought I had it all, but I wasn’t happy. I knew something was missing,” he said.

Born in London in 1964, Pridmore was baptized a Catholic, but religion did not play much of a role in his upbringing.

Pridmore describes his early childhood as rather happy until a turning point occurred when he was 10 years old.  His parents told him to choose which one of them he wanted to live with because they were getting divorced.

Pridmore said he believes that is when he made an unconscious decision not to love again because “the two people I loved had crushed me. It seemed better not to love than to get hurt.”

Soon after, his mother was placed in a psychiatric hospital. He and his brother lived with his father, who eventually remarried.

“It was a home of anger and violence,” he said. “I wanted my dad to take notice of the pain I was in, so I started stealing.”

To read more about John Pridmore, visit his Web site.

He got caught and was put into a detention center for three months when he was 15 years old. He continued stealing, mainly from his employer and by breaking into buildings, and was back in prison four years later.

It was a low point for Pridmore, and while in prison he considered killing himself.

“I was very bitter after getting out,” he said. He decided to hook up with the men who he saw had money and power – gangsters.

“I did crack, I did dope like it was going out of style. I was very promiscuous,” Pridmore said of those years. “I was in fights. It was a violent lifestyle.”

The fight that proved to be a pivotal point in his life happened in 1991. Pridmore was a nightclub bouncer and got into a brawl with a man who had been thrown out of the club.

As the man lay motionless, “I thought to myself that I might get 10 years in prison; I didn’t care if I took his life,” he said.

But in the weeks that followed, the realization that he had no regard for another person’s life actually frightened this tough mobster. He started feeling how empty his life was.

“It triggered something in me,” he said. “One night I heard a voice inside me. I prayed for the first time, telling God that all I’d done is take from him in my life, and now I wanted to give. Then I felt the Holy Spirit and the love of God pour into me. I was 27 years old and that was the first time I realized God is real and he has a plan for me.”

Excited that he had been touched by God, Pridmore went to see his mother, who had remarried by this time.

“She was the only person of faith I knew,” he explained.

He learned his mother had been praying for him.

“She had said a novena to St. Jude, the saint for hopeless causes, and it was on the ninth day that I heard God’s voice,” Pridmore said.

The next day, he visited a priest his mother knew. The priest suggested Pridmore go on a retreat.

During one of the retreats he attended, Pridmore gave a full confession.

“I didn’t leave anything out. Then the priest asked me to look at him, and he was crying. I knew he was Jesus,” Pridmore said. “I knew I had been forgiven. I felt so free I wanted to dance.”

Embracing a Christian life was challenging after 20 years of criminal behavior, and Pridmore relied on prayer to help him stay true to God whenever he was tempted to sin.

Pridmore knew he did not want to be a part of the mobster world any more, but “it’s not something I could just walk away from. I knew so much, I’d get killed,” he said.

He told a gang member, nicknamed Bulldog, why he had to get out.

“Bulldog, who was like a father to me, said he’d look out for me, meaning the word got out that if anyone killed me, he would kill them,” Pridmore said. “He hoped this good deed was his insurance policy with God.”

Also during this time, the charges related to the nightclub beating were dropped due to lack of evidence.

Pridmore gave away his money and his expensive clothes. He did volunteer work for various service agencies in London, and after about a year, “I asked God what I should do now. His response was to concentrate on helping youth.”

During the next several years, Pridmore focused on helping young people get to know Jesus by working with at-risk youth in the London area and volunteering at youth retreats.

In 1998, he decided to learn more about religious life and moved into the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal friary in New York. It was there that he met Mother Teresa for the first time.

“She really inspired me to work with young people,” Pridmore said.

Feeling he was being called to share his story with teens and young adults, Pridmore moved back to England in 1999. He spent the next several years giving retreats throughout Europe, speaking to thousands of youth about God’s mercy and love for sinners.

Pridmore said one of his most memorable experiences was addressing more than 400,000 young people at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in 2008. Last year he traveled to 16 countries.

His book about life as a criminal and then a Catholic, titled “From Gangland to Promised Land,” was published in 2002 and has been translated into several languages. Today he receives e-mails from young people throughout the world, many sharing their spiritual experiences; others asking how to find God.

“I tell them to just ask God. It’s about being open to God,” Pridmore said.

Pridmore’s current home is in Ireland at St. Patrick’s Community, a lay community he started about nine years ago. The community’s members live a life centered on the Eucharist and prayer. They are dedicated to evangelization, taking the message of Jesus to churches and schools. All of their work is done as volunteers.

“We live off God’s providence,” he said.

Pridmore and his mother remain close. His father is deceased, but experienced a conversion before his death.

Prayer, Mass and confession are mainstays in Pridmore’s life now; a radical change compared to his life as a gangster.

“Before, I never had peace or joy,” he reflected. “Life is meaningless until you are close to Jesus.”