From crime to salvation: Allen Langham's story
Allen Langham shares his story of a 20-year criminal past that wrecked a promising rugby league career – and how God answered his cry for help while in prison …
“I was born in Doncaster in the late seventies, on a council estate in the village of Scawsby. When I was eight months old my father Allen left home so I was raised by my mum Marlene and two sisters, Heather and Donna.
“Heather had left home and was married to my brother in law Steve. Donna was still at home. We had a very close-knit family and mum was the lynchpin. A strong-willed ‘old school’ mother who was proud of her family and would do anything for us. She was in her 40s when she had me and struggled with the social aspect of this, often feeling out of place and always worried what ‘folk thought’.
“It had been a tough journey – she had lost her own mum at the age of three, then her first husband Harry in a tragic accident when he was stationed in Germany just after the second world war. She then married a tough Scotsman –and suffered at his hands for more than 20 years.
“When she met my dad she found herself swept off her feet by his charm and fell madly in love with him. He then suddenly left home and mum’s world came crashing down around her – she swore she would never be seen attractive again by another man and subsequently comfort ate and ballooned in weight and became depressed.
“I was a hyperactive child and hard to control. My brother-in-law Steve stepped in and took on a father role, helping all he could. However I craved a dad and grew up creating fantasies of a ‘normal family’ – I’d often go into my own world as a child and had secret dens and hideouts.
“Mum struggled to handle me and at times lost her temper, lashing out before being overcome with guilt and smothering me in love. So growing up as a child was a mixture of happy times and family outings – and others of violence and depression.
'SOMETHING SNAPPED IN ME THAT DAY'
“I took to the streets where I was the youngest of the kids and suffered at the hands of bullies and was constantly beat up and called a little ‘bastard’ as my parents weren't married. I took to the woods and my secret dens where I spent lots of time as a bit of a loner and always in the hope I'd get a dad.
“At aged 14 my whole world fell apart as I came downstairs to find my mum dead on the settee after a cerebral haemorrhage. I was filled with a rage and anger, and something snapped in me that day that took me on a road to destruction for the next 20 years.
“At the age of 18 I was given the first of seven prison sentences and a rocky path that would cover most of my adult life. I walked into prison that day and was a lost little boy trapped inside a 17-stone professional rugby player’s body. I simply hadn't developed emotionally since the death of my mum and was a ticking timebomb. So full of rage, blame and pure anger.
“At first prison life was easy – we were in young offenders institutes and were big lads so never really got much hassle other than what we caused for ourselves along with running battles from neighbouring districts of Yorkshire. I got accustomed to the routine and the ‘normal’ family life I so badly craved I sought from the guys in prison. So I went in naïve and came out criminally-minded and off into a world of drugs, fighting and trouble.
'I DROPPED TO MY KNEES AND CRIED OUT ...'
“Every year I was given sentences and they increased until I had served more than seven years behind bars. It changed me. I had become a bitter, hardened criminal who rubbed shoulders with gangsters and became an enforcer and debt collector along with drug dealing. Prison was degrading and I was in constant trouble and would lash out at anybody.
“It was a hostile world focused on the survival of the fittest, so I spent hours in the gym and read books and studied to occupy my mind and time. It was hard mentally and emotionally as the world outside passed me by and I lost touch with loved ones and children. After so many years I was defeated – lost, broken and totally alone I'd had enough and was at the point of suicide. I dropped to my knees in my prison cell and cried out ‘GOD!!! If you’re real and hearing my prayers put a white bird outside my window.’
“The following morning as I went to the window, in slow motion the pigeons took off – and a white bird landed. Just the symbol I'd asked for and in my heart I knew it was for me. I committed my life to Jesus at that point, on my knees.
JOURNEY TO FREEDOM
“Due to the severity of my prison security file, I was then moved out to HMP Armley in Leeds. I started a new journey – taking steps to freedom. Almost immediately my rage was replaced with pure peace and my whole demeanour changed. All I wanted to do was love people and tell them that Jesus was real and started to study ‘The battlefield of the mind’ by Joyce Mere, and The Bible.
“I felt terrible for all the bad things I had done over the years and the process of redemption had started. There was a long way to go however. I just kept my head down and received prayer for my involvement with spirit mediums and spiritualist churches. I felt a black cloud leave me that day.
"I helped people, and just completely changed as I was filled with love and peace. We prayed for the truth to out and within two days I was released from prison and a new man. I was full of zeal but very little wisdom, and had so many issues and layers of mistrust and old habits that needed to be changed.
'GOD IS RESTORING THE LOST YEARS'
“I had spent 20 years in the criminal world, from the age of 15 until 35. I thought it was big and clever to drink take drugs and fight. All I did was wasted a promising rugby league career and led a life of violence and criminal behaviour. I missed my children growing up, lost all my self-respect and became so feared that people would cross the street to avoid me.
“I have so many regrets and would say to any young people today ‘if you think the gangster life is like it is in films, you’re completely set for a major fall into a life of wasted years, wasted opportunities and wasted talent.
“Believe me, I have seen it all and done it all – but it cost me dearly. All I loved I pushed away. I couldn't trust anyone, was totally paranoid and extremely dangerous. Don’t follow the crowd – break away from bad influences and be the best you can possibly be. Don't get to my age and be filled with regret. Create a future, and leave a legacy.
“I believe God has transformed my life and is restoring those lost years. I believe that my story can offer hope to a lost generation that anything is possible and that even a drug-dealing violent career criminal can be forgiven and changed.
'I AM IN AWE OF WHAT GOD HAS DONE'
“Week to week, month to month, year to year I am in awe of what God has done in my life and who he has transformed me into. A loving caring family man who loves Jesus and is dedicated to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and what is possible when you submit your life to him.
“I want to leave a legacy of love: for my children to have known their father’s love and guidance to know that my whole life was based on becoming the best dad I could possibly be.
“Now I want people to say ‘look at his achievements in God’ and carry on my vision of unity and positive change.
“I want to have made a difference, to have given it my best shot and seen lives changed.”
- Allen Langham’s book Taming of a villain: a message of hope is out now, published by Lion Hudson.