Prison prayer brings message of hope for Norwich man
Twenty million adults in the UK pray – and one in three of us believes that God answers prayer. These are some of the surprising statistics that emerge in a new national campaign called “Try Praying – there is hope” which features the compelling story of Norwich man Clint Holmes. Mike Wiltshire reports.
Clint’s remarkable testimony is featured in the campaign’s ‘Little Book for Prisoners’ – bringing a message of hope to some of the 80,000 men and women behind bars in the UK. His story appears under the headline, ‘Saved from suicide’ after he saw ‘terrible violence’ while on remand in prison.
Today, Clint (pictured right) is a free man, now happily married to Lois, and is a key leader in Norwich’s Radical Church.
“Every day, when I wake up, I thank God for what he has done in my life,” admits Clint. “I thank Him for the basic things and for the adventure of being a follower of Jesus Christ.”
But it wasn’t always so: in his earlier life, Clint became hooked on drugs and was forced by an armed gang to help import a 10-ton consignment of cannabis in a shipping container - “we know where your family live,” they warned him.
Armed Police and Customs were tipped off about the plan, and Clint found himself pinned to the floor in handcuffs, as a police helicopter hovered over the warehouse and police dogs growled at the four suspects involved.
Clint was sentenced to five and half years in prison, but today as a free man he has a passion to reach marginalised people who, like himself, have struggled with addictions and troubled relationships.
The eldest of five children, Clint grew up in a troubled home in Nottingham. As a teenager he longed for a career in football until his dream was dashed by a knee injury. Like many boys on his estate he began drinking at 13 and by 16 was caught up in gangs of angry hooligans. His alcohol tolerance climbed so high, he switched to cannabis and other drugs that gave him a bigger ‘high’ and rush of confidence.
He managed to hold down several jobs and assisted in a night shelter where he met a Chinese man linked to the Triad criminal network.
Clint, still struggling with drug addiction and failed relationships, was offered cannabis and pure cocaine - and then told, under threat, that he must assist the gang “which was run on fear and paranoia.” The plan was to import a huge quantity of vacuum-packed cannabis into the UK in a container which supposedly contained only candles.
After the failed crime, Clint spent 13 months on remand and saw ‘terrible violence’ in prison. He was put on a suicide watch to keep an eye on other disturbed prisoners. One inmate tried to speak to Clint ‘about hope in God’, but Clint just swore at him.
Then he saw a man “beaten to a pulp” as guards turned away - so Clint asked to be put in solitary confinement to escape the violence. “I hated myself,” Clint recalls. “I just sat there in total darkness and - with a razor blade - planned to end it all. I just prayed, ‘Oh God...” and though my eyes were shut, I suddenly felt the cell fill with intense light. I just felt pure love all over me. I knew straight away it was Jesus… I knew it was Him.”
A few days later, Bill, a prison chaplain on the ‘block’ asked: “Does anyone want communion?”
Clint gladly accepted, and in the chaplain’s office, he took the sacraments – “it was a very big thing for me.”
In his new love for Jesus Christ, Clint avidly read the Bible, writing down chosen scriptures so he could remember them. Prison staff noticed the big change in his life. A rehab manager who had dabbled in the occult became a Christian – and Clint was soon helping in prison chapel services which grew rapidly as more men attended. Clint was so overjoyed by his new-found faith that he was breathalysed in prison to see if he been drinking the communion wine.
He was shocked, however, when a liberal church minister asked him, “You don’t actually believe this stuff do you?” This only toughened Clint’s resolve to follow Christ and he wasn’t bothered when men on the landings shouted, “Here comes the God squad!” as he walked by. Clint, a chapel orderly, became an unofficial prison chaplain – “even the Governor knew it.”
Clint today believes that large sections of the church are asleep. “We need a bigger heart for the community,” he says. “There are so many addicts out there. But I’m sticking close to God.” His experiences have propelled him to avidly support Radical Church in Norwich. The group meets at various venues for outreach meetings including Frere Road Community Centre in Heartsease and St Stephen’s Church in Chapelfield.
Clint has seen God provide for his needs in answer to prayer. His faith in Christ has taken him far afield, even to India, and he has served faithfully with the Street Pastors and has a special regard for the elderly.
Clint is grateful that his story is included in the ‘Try Praying’ book for prisoners, as he realises his own prison encounter led to a transformed life. The ‘Try Praying’ project is a prayer guide with a difference, challenging non-churchgoers to pray for seven days and see what happens. Surprising results are highlighted including a man who prayed: “God, if you’re there (and I’m not sure you are) – but if you are, I want to know you. I don’t want to fool myself. I really want to know you. Please make yourself known to me.”
Clint’s own story of gratitude to God is echoed by an ex-prisoner from HMP Edinburgh who took up the challenge to ‘Try Praying. He said: “Life in prison began to get better when I thanked God every day – I started to have an attitude of gratitude.’
There are various editions of the ‘Try Praying – there is hope’ booklets in print and online for adults, young people and for those requiring a large print version. For details, visit the website: www.trypraying.org
Order your own free Try Praying booklet at: www.trypraying.co.uk/try-it/booklet/