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A former gangland enforcer has told how he turned his life around after finding God in prison during an attempt to rob a Bible group.
John Lawson terrorised drug dealers, ran brothels and left his victims cowering in fear as he embarked on a life of horrific violence in Merseyside.
But after finding God during a spell behind bars he has reformed and now travels the world’s toughest prisons to speak about his experiences.
John’s criminal roots began in Birkenhead where he settled at the age of 13 after life in South Africa and Glasgow had left him “street savvy”.
The 49-year-old, who has now chronicled his experiences in a book, told the Liverpool ECHO: “I did stupid things like burgling factories. Then we moved to the North End and everything started again, getting involved in shoplifting, robbing, stealing - being a young idiot.
“The only way I didn’t get expelled was because I was a good rugby player.
“Then I left school and couldn’t get a job in the high unemployment of the ‘80s.
“By now I was fighting and playing rugby. I wasn’t good enough to be a rugby player so I went fighting.”
He started working on the doors at a club called Jimmies before moving to London, ripping off tourists in Soho sex shops - learning his imposing figure would make a customer pay for their Coke, even if had cost them £50.
His “crazy lifestyle” also saw him work as a bodyguard for celebs visiting the north west while “taxing drug dealers in his spare time” - robbing the people who could not look to the police for help.
A second spell in jail for opening an adult video shop was quickly followed by a step up in his criminal career - kidnapping and hostage taking on behalf of big money ‘businessmen’.
John said: “I was such a wrong ‘un I could quite easily kiss my kids goodnight and then go off, put a balaclava on and hold someone up with a shotgun and take them hostage. I was living above the law.”
But it could not last. While planning to kidnap a target in Spain he was jailed for attempted extortion. His assets were seized and he had nothing.
It was not another prison term that led to John becoming a religious convert though. It was biscuits.
After months of ignoring invites to bible studies he learned of the treats on offer and decided to add God to his list of victims: “I went to bible studies to steal biscuits. I knew one thing about Christians - when they prayed they closed their eyes.”
Yet as he waited to strike the words of a hymn sheet caused him to break down in tears. And when he opened a bible that night and stumbled across the words of Ezequiel - who declared that “If a wicked man” can turn his life around he will be accepted by God - he was inspired to change.
He said: “I sat in my cell and it was like I was looking in a mirror. I knew there and then that was me. I was the wicked man.”
That was a decade ago and John’s conversion has been breathtaking.
The one-time hard man regularly returns to prisons, but only to talk to inmates as he shares his story with murderers and gangsters around the globe.
And later this month John will return to Birkenhead to share that story. With writer John Sealey he has published a new book, If A Wicked Man, and his book-signing tour will take him to Waterstones in Birkenhead from 2pm - 4pm on Saturday, June 25.
The following morning, from 10.30am, he will be speaking at The Link with Emmanuel Church on Claughton Road, Birkenhead.