By Alison Hull (Good News)
Sword-wielding drug dealer Tony Gielty - one of Scotland’s most violent prisoners - finds peace after being shown simple kindness
Few people were living in as much darkness as Tony Gielty.
At just 17, Tony was sentenced to ten years in prison after he attempted to murder a man with a samurai sword. This was just the latest in a series of violent episodes, and once in prison, it continued. In fact it got worse. Nobody was safe from him - not his fellow prisoners, nor the staff around him. He was thrown out of the most violent prison in Scotland, and spent months in solitary con?nement.
“Violence,” he says now, “had become a massive part of my identity and my reputation, which in turn led to benefits - protection and criminal status.”
Tony had not always been a violent person. A deep depression settled on him when he was still quite young, and the only antidote he found was the adrenaline that coursed through his system when he ran from the police, sold drugs or launched an attack on someone.
In prison, when alone, the memories of what he had done tortured him. But he found himself incapable of breaking the pattern of hitting out. And, as an ex-boxing champion, he was powerful. Recklessness made him even harder to control.
At the end of their resources, after Tony had been in prison for a few years, the Scottish Prison Service was about to reach for its last weapon - to put him on the Ghost Train. This is a policy of putting dif?cult to control prisoners into solitary con?nement permanently - moving them around from prison to prison, a few months here, and a few months there, leaving them disorientated and unable to cause trouble. Its effect was, he says, “to destroy a prisoner psychologically”.
And at this point, another prisoner told him bluntly- “You need to see a priest.”
Tony knew about priests - he had been brought up in the Catholic Church, and had even gone through a period of loving Jesus and wanting to be a saint as a child. All that was way behind him now, but he made the request. And when he met Father John, he met something new, something he had not encountered in prison, up to that point. He met the love of God.
Tony says: “The chaplain’s genuine love really stood out in a dark environment.” In the book he has written about his experiences, Out of the Darkness, he uses a quote from Simone Weil: “One of the rarest and purest form of generosity is to pay attention.” Tony explains “It was the simple forms of kindness that most touched my heart.”
write me off,
even when I
was in a padded
... cell, facing
years in prison” And slowly he began to change. After meeting the chaplain, he began reading the Bible and attending the chapel.
Although his drug-dealing continued, the violence stopped. Those around him, including the prison staff, could see the difference.
But a plan to bring a violent man (one of Tony’s friends) in from another prison, in the belief that Tony would be a good influence on him, backfired. Soon they were both in solitary con?nement.
And then God really got to work on Tony, who was finally able to see himself from God’s point of view.
Through reading the book of Amos in the Bible, Tony saw just how sinful he was and that he would be judged for his sins by a righteous God.
“I had stood in the highest court of my country, in front of the highest representatives of my nation’s law but that was child’s play in comparison to the thought of the judgement of God,” he writes.
Tony made the decision to follow Jesus but wanted to know for sure that God was real. When he asked God to show him a dove and was answered in the most unlikely way, Tony was stunned that God would answer the prayer of a sinner.
“As I was thanking God and weeping, I was filled with a supernatural peace. I could feel the love of God as it poured into my heart. I had peace, an unshakeable peace, and a peace like I had never known. I was in a maximum security prison, inside a solitary cell, and I was freer than I had ever been in my life!”
The man who had left solitary confinement a little while later looked different on the outside, and was very different on the inside. The drug-dealing which, even in prison, made Tony a rich man and brought him privileges, trendy clothing and other perks, was over.
He threw out of his cell all the things his trading had brought him. He started calling himself Anthony instead of Tony, signifying that he was a new person. And he wanted - and wants - more than anything is to let the others know the Jesus who has completely changed his life.
“Right from the start,” he says, “I was desperate to present the mercy of Jesus Christ, so that others trapped in hate may find a way out, and those facing hopeless situations may be encouraged to seek God. Too many of my friends have been killed, imprisoned or remain trapped in drug abuse, written off by themselves and others. But God didn’t write me off, even when I was in a padded solitary, silent cell, facing years in prison.”
Tony once felt like there was an unmovable mountain between him and God but now says, “Those dark doubts could no longer touch me. I was free. I thought I was cursed and cut off from God, but where I deserved death, He had given me life, and where there is life there is hope.”
On his release, Anthony went on to study, marry, start a family and work both in prisons and with people who have life-controlling problems. In all cases, he is committed to showing others, especially prisoners that what happened to him can happen to them.
When he sums up why he wrote the book, Anthony simply says: “To see people come to know Jesus. For them to know that God is real, that He cares. To give people hope, that no matter how dark your life might be, Jesus is able to overcome it.”•