When I asked Brian Greenaway what would have happened if he hadn’t become a Christian he lets out a deep sigh.
“I look like a nice guy, don’t I?” It was true. Well dressed with a smile on his face, Brian looks pretty ordinary.
“I can be very murderous”. Before I have the chance to take in the weight of that statement, he continues: “I never had a fight to hurt a guy, I wanted to kill him.”
“Because of the drugs nothing tempered that. My intent was to really hurt and I would have been banged up for life. I would have killed. I very nearly did.”
'Cutting the bull'
Brian’s story is one of childhood abuse, drugs and life as the president of the Portsmouth based Hells Angels. He describes his new book The Monster Within as a “very in depth emotional roller coaster about being human”.
The theme of being real, honest and human appears within minutes of our conversation.
“It’s about cutting the bull,” he says bluntly.
“That’s what I want to scream at the world; lets stop being hot-chocolate-drinking-lovely-people and actually be real.”
“I was divorced about 16 years ago. I was going to an awfully nice church in Wimbledon. All my friends turned their back on me apart from two guys. That really hurt.”
“When we’re in the gutter that’s when we need people to roll up their sleeves and get alongside us. I don’t see a lot of that in the church.”
If Brian hasn’t witnessed openness in the church, he certainly has in his prison ministry. The ministry which has reached out to inmates for 32 years is now coming to an end, but Brian will carry the stories of those he’s met for the rest of his life.
"The wonderful thing I find about prison ministry is we don’t judge because every person I see is a terrible person in a sense. The church is filled with redeemed sinners and I think sometimes we think we’re redeemed but we forget the sinner bit."
“My world is full of guys who have been through incredible pain, you can’t begin to understand a young black lad who was a child soldier at 5 years old who was cleaning AK-47 guns and at 15 years old was raping and murdering people and is now in our prison system.”
"You can't begin to understand" is a common phrase as Brian talks to me. "I don't mean that in a rude way, but it's true you can't". He's right, of course.
"This is me, this is who I am this is my past," he says rolling up his sleeves to reveal tatoo covered arms.
"They would say Christians shouldn’t have tattoos. Where does that come from? How judgemental are we being? Some of us grow strong and quick, some of us struggle and struggle. I work with the strugglers and so should the church."
Abuse, violence and fighting back
Brian’s own story starts with a series of painful events.
“My dad left when I was four years old. He left me, my pregnant mum and my younger sister. The painful bit was he visited my auntie two doors down but totally didn’t want to know me and rejected me for years. That really hurt.”
“My mum was angry and bitter that he cleared off. ‘You’re just like your Dad’ she used to say. She hated his guts, so what is she actually saying to me?”
“When I was 8 years old there was a step father He would be the guy who would beat me with his belt. My Mum would beat me with whatever was available. Lots of violence, no love at all.”
It was this background that influenced Brian’s attitude towards violence.
“There came a time when that ended and [I decided] I’m going to fight back. So it would be a knife or a piece of steel in my hand. In the end it became a gun.”
Brian wears a gold necklace with a model shotgun on the end. “This is to remember my roots,” he says, brandishing it in my direction, explaining it helps keep his pride in check. "Don’t get on any ego trip Brian Greenaway," he says to himself.
Delivered in Dartmoor
Brian became a Christian in the infamous Dartmoor Prison.
“A lovely Christian man visited me and he talked to me for about an hour then he said ‘is there anything I can get you?’
“I thought ‘a yacht in Torquay would be nice!’ Then I said, ‘have you heard of a living Bible?’ I wasn’t religious at all, I was a total animal. I used to go to church just to get out of my cell. He went into his briefcase and pulled out a Living Bible. He also gave me a copy of Run Baby Run.
“I went back to my cell. I’m a hard man. I’m reading Run Baby Run and I started cry. Men don’t cry, not in my world.”
“When I read about Nicky Cruz whose life was totally changed by God, I thought 'if God could do that for him, he can do it for me'. My message now is ‘if God can do it for me he can do it for you, whoever you are. If God can reach me in that filthy pit in Dartmoor, he can reach you, whatever state your head is in.'”
It's a remarkable story. But with prisons often making headlines, I couldn't resist asking what Brian thinks of the UK system now.
“Prison is a doddle now, it’s a joke. It’s ridiculous. Prisoners having rights? I struggle with that. When you abuse and you end up in prison, I think you forfeit rights. I think prison should be a lot tougher and a challenge. It should wake you up.”
“When you go in it should scare you. I have met many for whom it’s a continual circle. For some it’s a matter of days before they are back in again.”
Coming back to his earlier topic of honesty in the Church, Brian admits a truth many would rather keep quiet.
“Within this framework of Brian Greenaway there is a monster. Although Paul says in the Bible 'therefore in Christ Jesus we are a new creation', I wrestle with that because I know in here there’s a human being.”
With all this talk about encouraging Christians to be real and hearing about the pain Brian has gone through, his answer to my next question is unsurprising.
What does the rest of this year have in store for you?
“Something to do with helping hurting people. We had a letter yesterday of a guy screaming out for help. There’s a lot of people out there who are desperate for help and I’m just hoping please God that my book will be of value to them."
“I’m not writing a book because I want to be rich or I think my publishers are wonderful. I’m writing a book for it to be a blessing to people.”
“I want to do what God wants me to do, not what I want to do.”
June 25th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes