One of the events of 1990 that will stay with us for years to come is that of the Strangeways riots, the worst prison riots in the UK, and the men who were on the roof. This story is about one of those men who were to know a dramatic and life-changing event which many would not believe.
Alan was born in 1959, son of a Scottish mother and Irish Father in Bellshill hospital in Scotland. Moving to Manchester he was the oldest son in an unhappy family that was marked by drunken beatings of mother and son when he was of the age to stand up for his mum. Life was hard, cruel and childish innocence spoilt by abuse of the worst kind that was to scar Alan for the rest of his life. Nothing of the Bible was ever spoken about except for a children’s Bible that Alan read at night in the light of the outside street lights. It was then that he read of the stories of Jesus, His wonderful miracles, love and compassion.
An unhappy home life produced an angry teenager who in his desperation to win respect joined the British army aged just 17 years. Alan’s anger for life made him a good soldier, one who rose through the ranks to corporal, fought in the Falklands as well as Northern Ireland. During these years a drinking habit began to grow, perhaps a bid to blot out the very unhappy home life that had left such a deep wound, which brought such deep humiliation, He would ask, why me?
That Fatal Night
Having spent about 10 years in the army, it was the events of one fatal night that began to change things forever. Too drunk to take his platoon out on patrol, Alan’s good friend stepped in as a substitute on that fateful night in Northern Ireland, such substitution that meant that he lost his life in Alan’s place. Years later Alan was to learn of another man who became his substitute. That man was to change his life forever.
The loss of such a good friend left Alan reeling with feelings of guilt, unbelief and disillusionment that led him to leave the army setting up home in Germany for a time. One trip home to Manchester was again to impact Alan’s life dramatically. In a moment of madness Alan agreed to help some friends in a robbery, which led to a conviction and sentence. This began a life of crime and a criminal record which included robbery, assault, fire arms offences, fraud, blackmail, public disorder, offences relating to the police and kidnapping. A total of 54 offences leading to a number of prison sentences.
It was during a stay at Strangeways prison that Alan met a Christian chaplain who he grew to respect. He heard more of the man he had read about as a child Jesus Christ and of His love and death upon the cross for guilty sinners such as himself. The chaplain told him that he was a man who was seeking something but Alan wasn’t to discover what until years later. It was during a time at Strangeways prison in April 1990 that Alan was caught up in one of the worst prison riots that this country had ever seen. Over crowding and poor conditions led prisoners to revolt and the riots commenced. They lasted 25 days during which time 200 people were injured and one person lost their life. The buildings were badly damaged and had to be rebuilt. Alan who had a strong sense of justice joined the men up on the roof and was amongst the last 4 to leave it. Television pictures of these men were broadcast around the world as the authorities sought to bring the riot to an end.
The Downward Spiral
Alan’s life had become a downward spiral of crime, drinking and drug use, broken relationships and hearts especially of his children. His health began to suffer as the abuse of his body took its toll. Living in Wythenshawe, Manchester he became feared in the locality, known well by the local police and criminal community. But Alan was not happy! A seed perhaps sown whilst in prison began to take hold and Alan became increasingly unhappy as his conscious bothered him about all the wrong, the sin, he had done in his life. It was this that brought Alan into a little Christian run drop-in centre in Wythenshawe with a real need to speak to someone about his guilty conscious. This started a conversation that was to last nearly 3 hours half way through which this big ex-army 6 foot 4 man began to cry as he confessed to so much wrong in his life. Again Alan heard this sweet message of the gospel, of how his sins, many as they were could ALL be forgiven because of a God’s great love and the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, upon a cross. Alan heard that it is only by repenting (turning from) his sin and believing in his heart that Jesus had taken Himself the punishment for his sin, that he could be forgiven and saved from the results of his wrong ways, eternal punishment for ever in hell. Alan prayed that day and left with a bible promising that he would read it.
God is REAL
This was the start of a friendship which was to last over 18 months. Visits were made to Alan’s flat and the poverty which the drink and drugs had brought him was very evident to see. Often Alan would go days without food as all his money was spent on drink. Frequent visits were made to the local hospital as Alan’s condition began to worsen. Through this time God was at work in Alan’s life. On one occasion feeling so low and guilty he said that he did not believe that God could forgive him for all the wrong he had done. Another occasion Alan in despair cried out that he was a broken man and clearly God was at work to show him just how awful his sin was. On another occasion he had got hold of a sharp knife with the intention of killing himself but he was unable to do it. On hearing of blind Bartimaeus he said that he was just like him and needed to have his eyes opened. Through this time Alan became aware of God at work in his life showing him that He indeed was real and loved him despite his past. On one occasion Alan was taken to the accident and emergency department of the local hospital. A Christian took him there and waited the long hours with him until the doctors decided that he should be admitted. Once Alan was taken to the ward he discovered that the doctor who was to care for him there was also a Christian and Alan felt that God was not letting him get away from Him. These were little things that began to show Alan of the reality of God and his love and care for him. Being convinced of God’s reality he began to read the Bible as often as he could. He would read it openly in front of his drinking friends who were very surprised and suspicious that The Big Hard Alan should be reading a Bible. God was at work in his heart as only God can.
Alan attended the local gospel hall a few times where the drop-in had been on his first visit. He always listened intently and thought about what he had heard. Changes were happening, he was drinking less and talking more and more about the bible he was reading. On one occasion one of his drinking partners who went to the pub every day asked to know more and so Alan gave him a booklet which explained how he could get saved. That was the last time Alan saw the man in the pub. June 2005 Alan came to the gospel hall for the Sunday evening service. He listened to the challenging message of the gospel, that he was a sinner and he needed a Saviour and that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He then went to a gospel tent after the service and again heard the same wonderful message. Alan sang the hymns at the top of his voice, he listened to every word that was being said like a hungry man eating a feast. The preacher said that salvation was a matter of the heart and that you had to believe in your heart to be saved (Romans chapter 10 verse 9 The Bible) with those words Alan whispered with so much feeling ‘I believe’. The meeting finished and Alan went home to his little flat in Wythenshawe. He didn’t sleep much that night as he put matters right with his God whom he had sinned against so many times. His sins were forgiven and he became a child of the living God! Alan told us that on his 46th birthday he had been born again, had a second birthday and was now a child of God.
A New Man
What a difference there was in Alan. The drinking stopped and things began to change in his life. No longer did he want to go down to the pub for a drink, instead he loved meeting with his new family in Christ. Every where he went was a new opportunity to tell others about the fact that he was now saved. He gave out leaflets in different places at different times and always with a spring in his step despite his illness. Well of course he had discovered the true meeting for his existence, a relationship with the living God and what a difference that made in his life. Alan had a wonderful joy which radiated out of him. This was so uplifting to those Christians who knew him. Alan’s language began to change and he had an increasing softness. On one occasion he was seen whilst in hospital helping make an elderly patient comfortable in such a tender way. The staff that knew Alan so well from his frequent visits to hospital were amazed at the difference in him. He was tested to see if he truly had stopped drinking and the doctor, who perhaps had doubted, confirmed that there was no evidence of alcohol in his stomach. He always attributed the change to the fact that God had saved him. So impressed were the hospital with the change in Alan that they were considering him for a liver transplant as by this stage his liver was badly damaged by his years of drinking. Alan stated that the last 5 months of his life had been better than the last 46 years. That’s the difference that Jesus Christ makes.
I Want To Go Home
The incredible change in Alan was all as a result of God’s amazing grace, even the wonderful prospect of heaven was something that was in Alan’s mind as he knew that his liver was failing badly. As a result of this his visits to hospital were increasing. On the last visit he was to make, the lower half of his body was swollen like a balloon and Alan was in agony. He was given a lot of pain killers and other drugs and we watched as his condition deteriorated. His words when last able to speak sense were ‘I want to go home’. 3 days later Alan went home, perhaps not to the home he had thought but to a much better heavenly home which was his because of amazing grace as shown by the giving of God’s only begotten Son who died to become Alan’s savior and Lord.
Alan had few possessions when he died, but he did have a little New Testament that he carried around with him every where he went. After Alan died it was discovered that he had written a reference in the front it, it was Psalm 113v7 He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; v8 explains why, That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people. The Lord had lifted Alan from the depths and made him a child of God. He did not deserve it as none of us do, but by God’s amazing grace, which is undeserved favour, He was saved, forgiven and went to heaven to be with his Lord and Saviour for eternity. He was HOME!