Skip to content

Facing the fight - the story of Anthony Gielty

Alison Hull tells the dramatic story of the transformation of one of Scotland’s most violent prisoners …

ALISON HULL tells the dramatic story of the transformation of one of Scotland’s most violent prisoners …

What does a man do, when he is torn between two conflicting and completely irreconcilable ways of living?

When the choice is between avenging a brutal attack on a close friend or turning the other cheek, as Jesus taught? And when that decision is being taken in a prison cell?

Tony Gielty was, by the age of 17, a violent criminal. After attacking another man with a samurai sword, he ended up in prison, where the violence continued. Soon he was dealing in drugs, making money, taking Valium, and descending into a pit of despair, anger, hatred and paranoia.

Nobody was safe from him – not his fellow prisoners, and certainly not the prison staff. A meeting with a priest set him on the road to change, but the drug-dealing continued. And the day came when he had to choose – the old life, with its loyalties, or the new one, loyalty to Christ.

A mate, Matt, needed Tony to help him in a fight. What would he choose – Christ or violence?

“The decision,” he says now, “was both a rational and an emotional one. I had to weigh up the cost of rejecting violence, which had become a massive part of my identity and my reputation – bringing protection and criminal status.”

Rejecting violence would also mean “a renunciation of gang life and, in many cases, some of my oldest friendships. The rational part was the easy bit but it was the emotional pull of leaving behind the friends who had bled with me that was the toughest part. I felt sharply the call of Christ towards Him; the attraction to the light and the pull of the darkness”.

Soon back in solitary confinement, where he had already spent a lot of his sentence, Tony was in turmoil.

“I refused to call out to God – this was all His fault! After all, I had been attending every fellowship and church meeting the prison had to offer and now, in spite of all my efforts, He had allowed this to happen! I began to fill up with poisonous words that I wanted to hurl at God … yet at the very moment I went to spew forth my torrent of abuse, I stopped and knelt down on the cold cell floor and whispered, ‘Lord, have mercy.’”

The next few days saw a battle going on, in the solitary cell, as Tony read the Book of Amos and came to realise, for the first time, that his faith, so far, had been hypocrisy. For alongside all the meetings, the drug-dealing had continued.

“It was as if the prophet had me in mind as he proclaimed his message, and the more I read, the more I trembled. My awareness of my own injustice and uncleanness became stronger and stronger. My soul began to buckle under the weight of God’s truth, His holiness exposing my vileness. Yesterday I had wanted to accuse God on the basis of my own righteousness, my church attendance and pious dedication. I now remembered that I had attended those gatherings of men and women of God while being stoned out of my face …”

Panic set in as he looked back on how he had behaved, and he was convinced that he had discovered Jesus only to be about to lose Him forever.

This time, however, Tony was properly converted – and the old Tony died, to be replaced by Anthony, the name he has used ever since. He vowed to clear out everything that he had that had come as a result of selling drugs. He was going to live for Christ, regardless of the cost.

On his release from prison, Anthony has gone on to study, marry, start a family and to work both in prisons and with people with what he describes as life-controlling problems. In all cases, he is committed to showing others, especially prisoners, that what happened to him can happen to them.

“I want to see people come to know Jesus, to know that God is real, and He cares. I want to give people hope, so they know that, no matter how dark their live might be, Jesus is able to overcome it.”
+ Out of the Darkness: The Transformation of One of Scotland’s Most Violent Prisoners by Anthony Gielty is published by Monarch

Get more inspiring reading

To find back issues of the INSPIRE mini-mag - seasonal and themed issues - go to