Personal Stories: Edward Rowney's story

Reformed Jailbird And Junkie Finds New Life

I have been coming to New Life Church (in Durrington, Worthing) for about 10 months. Before New Life I was in Her Majesty’s Prison in Lewes. I was in custody, one of the prisoners. I was doing a 6-month sentence at that time. Prior to that I had been out for 6 months, when I had just finished a 2 year sentence, so I had actually served 2 years out of the last 3 in Lewes. I was in there as I had committed various crimes in the past which were mainly done to finance a drug addiction that I had.

It all started a long time ago when I was very young. When I was about 14 or 15 I wasn’t happy at home. I ran away from home to London. On getting to London I didn’t have anywhere to stay and somebody put me on to some people that were from the North East and were a lot older than me, and I felt quite safe with them.

Anyway, I moved in with them, but unfortunately they were all into Class A drugs. They were into heroin, cocaine and such, and it was only a matter of time, in fact it wasn’t very long, before I was actually injecting Class A drugs myself. I was only 15, and it wasn’t long, injecting like that, that I had quite a bad habit, but I suppose because I was quite young and quite healthy and full of life, even though it affected me quite badly I managed to be able to live with it for some time.

I decided to travel, but by that time I had quite a taste for drugs, so I decided to use my travel as a social thing and also to earn money, so I travelled to some of the major drug capitals of the world, in India, Thailand, Africa and so on, with the sole purpose really of seeking out the best quality drugs I could find. I did that, and I also earned money by doing that, because I used to get the drugs and traffic them from country to country, and that way I could keep my own drug addiction going, finance it and do my travelling at the same time.

It was only a matter of time before things began to pile up, and it was whilst I was in Israel that I was caught smoking hashish. I was sentenced to 2 years in an Israeli jail, and I was supposed to be deported from Israel, but the African authorities wanted me in Morocco and they insisted that I was deported straight there. So I was deported straight to Morocco where there was another sentence waiting for me. So then I served another 10 months in a Moroccan jail.

It is quite a shock to the system really, when you go into prison. I had been in quite a few prisons in my time, but I don’t think prison’s easy and there is no sentence that’s an easy sentence. They are all hard sentences really. I went into Lewes, starting this new sentence, but I think at that time I knew in my heart that the Edward Rowney that was going in was going to be the Edward Rowney that would come out. I was basically going in as a junky, a heroin addict, and nothing was going to be addressed, I was going to come out the same fellow, and I would eventually go back to drugs and crime again, and then it would be the same cycle of drugs, crime, prison. I didn’t really think anything was going to change.

When I went into Lewes this time I was quite desperate, and knew things would have to change, but I didn’t know how, where or when, and had the customary visits that you have on your entry into prison, which is a visit from the prison doctor, a visit from the prison Governor, and the inevitable prison Chaplain comes round. And the prison Chaplain came round this time and to be honest I don’t normally give them the time of day, and thought they are all a bit crazy, but this time, though, I wanted to talk, and the prison Chaplain came round and invited me into his cell and we sat down.

He didn’t really talk much about himself, he just wanted to know about me. So I basically told him what I’m telling you now, about my past and how I had been pretty bad with drugs, and again he didn’t really say a lot, he just sat and listened, which was quite nice. At the end of the conversation he said he had to go, and he asked me a question.

He said “if God could change something in your life now, what would you ask him to change?” and I said that I would ask him to get me off drugs and keep me clean of drugs for the rest of my life, and he said to me “Will you do me a favour – will you use those words as a prayer tonight?”. Really, I couldn’t get him out of the cell quick enough, but I agreed to it, anyway. 

It’s hard to find a quiet time in jail, as you are surrounded by people all the time, but I found a quiet moment and remembered the words I had said to the Chaplain and said them as a small prayer, and to be honest nothing happened – there were no bright lights, no fanfare of trumpets, the ground didn’t shake, and I wasn’t instantly cured, and I suppose I lost heart a bit. But about a week later I bumped into the same prison Chaplain and he remembered me, which is quite nice, and he pulled me to one side and said “Did you say that prayer?” I said “Yes, but nothing happened”

So he said “Will you do me a favour, will you say it again?” And I thought well, I’m not going to get this guy off my case, so I did. So I repeated this prayer again. I actually found, though, that I was beginning to add more to the prayer. There seemed to be more to it, it came more from the heart, I seemed to mean it more. And I kept on repeating that prayer, and after a few weeks I was invited to the prison chapel and I got to know the Chaplain and a few of the people that are involved with the Prison Fellowship. 

I then got involved in a prison Alpha Group, I met some nice people there, and we used to meet up quite regularly, and I think what happened was that things began to change within me and I don’t think I realized, if I am going to be honest. It was more that other people noticed it in me. There were people coming in that I knew from the street, people I had been involved in crimes with and activities around drugs, and they actually began to notice a change in me and told me about it, and it was about that time that I noticed things had started to change within me. I realized at that time that my prayers were being answered.

Near the end of the sentence I was quite nervous and apprehensive about returning to Hastings, where I used to live. I had moved on quite a way, and I think the realisation I had come to midway through this sentence, and it had never ever happened to me in 32 years of serious drug addiction, is that I no longer craved drugs any more, and I was quite astonished by that.

I had been in so many rehabs, de-toxes and so on, and had so many professional people trying to help me, and yet they couldn’t, and yet I had just come to this realisation that it didn’t seem so much of a problem for me any more. But I knew that when I came out, if I went back to where I used to live, it was going to be doubly hard for me. I would be going back to my old friends and my old habits, really. So I decided while I was in jail that I needed a new start. 

I met a chap through the prison Chaplain, a guy called John, who was involved with the Prison Fellowship, and I mentioned to him that I wanted to start again, that my faith was coming on really well, and I think at that point I knew I wanted to become a Christian, and he said that he could help me.

He mentioned this town, Worthing, which is a town I had never been to before, and said would I consider going to Worthing, and I said “yes”. When he asked me what I wanted when I came out of prison, I can’t believe it, but I said the first thing I want is a good church, and he said he thought he could help me with that.

So he recommended New Life Church. I think at first John was trying to find a church that would accept me and not be judgmental. I still had a lot of hang-ups about my past, and I still carried a lot of guilt. He just wanted somewhere that would give me a chance, and I was told that New Life was one of those churches. As it turned out, it was.

(In answer to the question of what he’d been doing over the past 10 months):

I am doing more that I have ever done, and it’s all legal, thank God. I haven’t got to worry about having my collar felt now, I can walk along the street and not be worried. I am doing bundles now, far more than I ever thought I could do. To be perfectly honest, I did think at one point that being a Christian would be an easy life; it’s far from it really. Very rewarding, but it is quite hard work, you do have to put a lot in. 

Since I have moved to Worthing, although I am not a member I do attend New Life Church which I get bundles out of. There are lots of aspects of that, I am involved with some voluntary work with Link Romania, which I get a lot from; I have quite an active social life; I am hoping to do some travelling through the church later on this year, and I have also started attending the Ex-Offenders Conference at Holy Trinity, Brompton, which is quite remarkable really, and that has opened quite a few doors for me insofar as I think it would be good to help people like myself, and the church are on board with this too, which is very good.

We want to try to help people like myself who have come out of prison who have maybe had backgrounds similar to mine and need a new start in life, so there is plenty for me to do.

(In answer to a question as to any advice to offer to anyone who may be in a similar situation):

In a situation like that you obviously need help, and it’s hard sometimes to ask for help, but you aren’t really going to get it until you ask for it.

Just to say that if it weren’t for the Christian community and my church, I really don’t think I would be here now.

Edward Rowney

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