Ex-con raised from coma offers inmates new life
Prison officers can be forgiven for wondering why reformed football hooligan Gram Seed now goes through the staff entrance rather than with the inmates.
But the 51-year-old, who spent so many years trying to get out of jail, willingly walks back in to share how God has transformed his life.
The 6 foot 5 giant founded Sowing Seeds Ministries eight years ago to "bring the message and love of Christ" to prisoners and ex-offenders, speaking to 200 people weekly. But it started much smaller.
On one occasion, he banged his fists on the walls of a jail only to be refused entry because of his criminal record. He met a man outside, who turned out to be the governor, and was then let in to tell his incredible story.
Written off as a lost cause, Gram's early life featured shoplifting, multiple stabbings and beatings, alcoholism, drug addiction, and homelessness before he ended up in hospital with an alcohol and drug-induced coma.
Useless at school, he let his fists do the talking, and a repeat offender was born. The troubled man served his first sentence – four months for breaking and entering – at just 16.
With a strong liking for violence, Gram joined The Front Line, a hooligan gang that followed Middlesbrough F.C. around the country.
Fight followed fight, resulting in one slashed eye and a near miss with the other, a gashed chin, a hit over the head with a blunt sword, a police dog bite, and four stabs from a knife in the arm and chest.
He was jailed four further times for football related violence, assault, robbery, and theft.
After failing to start a new life in Wakefield he returned to Teesside in Christmas 1992. Barely noticed, he began to drink heavily. Twenty-eight pints of White Lightning cider a day was the norm. Cannabis followed, then heroin and crack cocaine.
In 1993 he attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. But a patrolling police car found him in the early hours and he was saved in hospital.
By then home was a bench outside the Post Office. Food was begged or scavenged. Sleeping outside in all weathers he would wake up in winter with his shirt stiff with ice from rain and his jeans stiff from where he'd soiled himself.
Even so, when a passing group of Christians called out "Jesus loves you", he found the strength to chase them.
In August 1996, Gram's body finally gave out and he went into the six-day coma, suffering septicaemia, malnourishment, hypothermia, liver damage, and kidney failure.
His mother was advised to have the machine switched off, but the same group of Christians persisted in praying for him at the hospital.
He woke. After two months of recovery at the hospital, where he had to learn to walk again, he was released.
Something had changed deep within, he knew, though he was not yet ready to acknowledge the nature of it.
But he recounts this change in the following incident: "Soon after leaving hospital, I was looking out of my bedroom window.
"I saw three kids running over the bridge from Teesside Retail Park. They'd been shoplifting just like I used to do. I didn't have Christ yet, but I knew it was wrong and that I must do something.
"I got people to spread the word that I wanted to talk to the youngsters on the estate and that night more than 30 of them turned up.
"I said that, with my past, I was in no position to talk, and I couldn't explain why I was saying it, but what they were doing wasn't the right way to live and they must stop – and I was going to help them.
"From that day to this, that has been my mission."
Gram, who was invited to a course to explore Christianity, finally made his own commitment in November 1996. He soon became aware that he'd lost 200 words of his vocabulary – he'd stopped swearing – and instead of using Bible pages as cigarette papers he now 'lit-up' on every word.
In one prison visit he met a man from one of the 'enemy' football gangs who listened to his story and became a Christian himself, hugging him before he left.
Gram also baptised a policeman, who had often been in the interview room when he was being charged for various misdemeanours.
"I now can see God's fingerprints on my life even before I knew Him. There are times when I hate my old life, but I also believe it's now the greatest tool Jesus has given me to reach others," says Gram, now a happily married father-of-two.•