I WAS IN A RIGHT RUDDY MESS!
Introduction – Ireland in the 1940’s
Ireland was engulfed in poverty around the time when I was born, one of 7 brothers and 4 sisters. If you were the last up you got nothing to eat and nothing to wear. I’ve seen us go to school with no shoes on, or cardboard in the bottom of our shoes. I can even remember the time – I must have been about four or five – when I wore wellies to school in the summer, with great big holes in the soles. My dad was a drunkard and a violent man, an alcoholic. We used to get beaten up quite a lot. He would line us up against the wall, pull us out one by one and give us a good hiding. I used to hide under the bed, under the cover, behind a chair or anything. Knowing you’re going to get a hiding, and not knowing when you’re going to get it, was worse than actually getting it. I grew very bitter and I hated him. I used to pray that the Lord would take him away. He was a terrible, terrible man to live with. God did take him away, but only to work in England and I thought – well, I can’t actually tell you my thoughts – but I was glad that he was gone and sorry when he came back and it started all over again. Every time my father used to hit me I used to swear that one day, when I was a big man I was going to kill him stone dead. There were no ifs, no buts, I was going to kill him. When I was about eight years of age, in 1952, my family came to England, and I stayed with an old farmer who lived on his own.
The farmer bought me my first suit
These were the best years of my childhood. I had no oppression, no violence in the house, and there was plenty of food. I remember the day he took me to Newry and bought me my first suit. I went to church that Sunday morning and I walked miles in it and I swanked it off to everybody. But, you see, he couldn’t control me. I wouldn’t go to school. I found even at that early age it was difficult to relate and to trust anyone. The schoolteachers, were harsh and would flog you with the cane, so that put me off going to school, never mind anything else. I rarely went to school. I had my own horse, and I’d ride him bare back and I used to go into the mountains with the sheep and get the cattle in and it was exhilarating. That was the best time, the only time, which was good about my childhood. Then the authorities decided that I had to either return to my parents, or go to boarding school. Of course they couldn’t get me to go to school so I picked what I thought was the better of the two evils and went to my parents in Seacombe in Wallesea. Things were better but not much. I still hated my dad and this burden of hatred just kept on growing. I started drinking in nightclubs before I was 14 and eventually I left home and took off with the fairgrounds. I met a young girl in Manchester and married her because she said she was pregnant. Three weeks after we were married she had her period, so I absconded and joined the man’s army. That was another downfall in my career because I absolutely detested it. I enjoyed it at first, when I was in one regiment and I had made a lot of friends. I thought this was for me, being a chef, down in Aldershot in the Catering Corps. Then we went to Germany and I hit the booze. It was cheap and strong in Berlin and I got into a lot of trouble there. Then they said we were going to Ireland and they asked me to sign a British citizenship form so I would be going to Ireland to kill my own people, but I wasn’t having any of that. I decided to, what they called in those days, ‘work my ticket’. I had lots of blackouts. I would just fall flat on my face in the parade ground where they could all see and so they sent me to hospital in London. But I messed up big time. I said ‘no’, when I should have said ‘yes’ when the hospital in London asked me if I wanted a discharge. All the way through this game you’re supposed to say you don’t want out of the army until you get to the military hospital in London. Then you’re supposed to say ‘yes’! I really goofed up there! I was choked, and the only way from there was getting into trouble, so I started getting into trouble. I was continually in and out of jail. There was nothing they could do to me, I was determined to get out of the army and I wasn’t going to Ireland to shoot my own countrymen. After eleven or twelve consecutive twenty eight day imprisonments they decided to get rid of me. By this time I had met a girl in County Durham. I was in love with her at the time and I moved there and started to work on a building site. I stayed out of trouble for a while but it was a village and it reminded me of Ireland where everybody knew everybody else. They knew every which way the wind was blowing and it became a terrible time for me, but I loved this girl and we had children and I had a decision to make. Because I had never had roots myself, I’d never had a childhood, I’d never had anything concrete in my life, I thought, do I just up and off or do I stay there for them until they grow up to get out of it themselves. Although I didn’t know it at the time the resentment I was starting to feel for these people was the resentment and the bitterness starting to show itself because of what I had gone through as a child. I decided I had to stay. I had never had childhood friends and I can’t relate to anything good in my life before I was eight, not one solid thing. I always worked hard, so no one could say that I was lazy, but I also drank hard, gambled hard and smoked hard. The bitterness for my old man grew and grew and I started getting into a lot of trouble.
Then I found out where my father lived and I went to kill him
If anybody picked on me I would have a go at them. I’d pull a knife, I’d pull a bottle, anything, because I found myself in a situation where I was a stranger. I never felt accepted. Not once. Then I found out where my father lived and I went to kill him. I hadn’t seen him for goodness knows how many years. I went to visit my sister’s house and he was there. I know exactly what I wanted to do. My wife also knew and she was absolutely terrified. Here I was, I’d straightened myself out, got a good job, I was a foreman in a factory responsible for more than three hundred men on day and night shifts, and I was getting along in life. I was drinking heavy but I had my head above water, I had my own house and every thing else, but this hatred was so entwined in me that I went to my sister’s house in Birkenhead and heard his voice in the kitchen. I wasn’t afraid; I was calm. I knew he was going to die that day. When, or just how, I didn’t know, but I did know he was going to go that day. He walked in from the kitchen and lo and behold he had no nose on him, because it had been taken from him with cancer. He had calipers on his legs. I gave him a long hard look and I said to myself; God’s done to him what I was going to do. That was the God I knew, the God that punished. That was my understanding of the Irish Catholic God, the God of wrath and bitterness and hatred. So I went home very content because this man had suffered and I continued to enjoy his suffering, even when my young brother Frank died of a heart attack. He had the audacity to call me out of the reception alter Frank’s funeral and he said to me, ‘You know Tony, I love you.’ I said, ‘Oh really? So since when have you had this revelation?’ He said, ‘You know, those days in Ireland were hard.’ So I said, ‘Let me enlighten you. These days are hard. I go out and sometimes I get drunk, but I don’t go home and beat my wife and children up because of the mess I’ve made of my life or allowed other people to make of it. I’ve never done those things and you look at me and tell me you love me. How could you?’ I just left him. I left him standing there – he was speechless. Another brother died, murdered in Chesterfield in ’72. I relished my father suffering at his graveside. I loved it. I hated that man with such hatred it was unbelievable. I couldn’t get rid of it. It had rooted itself into my heart. When he died I was in Birkenhead and I had my own business. I went and got drunk and thought, ‘That’s it, that’s the end of it.’ But it wasn’t. After the funeral the company where I worked put us all on short time so I looked to work in the local market, but the trouble was that all my mates were going into the pub and I was standing by a stall, and I didn’t like that. I invested more money than I had into a haulage business, and by now the drink and the bitterness was accumulating all the time, there was no stopping it. I was on the slide, really drinking, I couldn’t get enough of it. I built up the business and in nine months I had two wagons and was turning over four grand a week, a lot of money in those days. But God has an awesome way of checking you out. I never forget the morning of the 31st March 1982, a Monday morning. I said to my wife, ‘Today we’re in the black. I’m going to give you 1,000 pounds cash to put in the bank; we’re going to have a good holiday this summer. I’ve got a new wagon ordered before the week’s out. I’ve got a load of pallets coming today, which will make good money. I’ve got a big cheque owing and by the time I’ve paid everyone out I’ll still have 3,000 pounds in the bank.’ It was a lot of money then, but before that day was out I’d lost everything. By twenty past twelve that night everything I had had gone, just by somebody falling asleep in his cab and running me off the motorway. I bounced back nine months later and got myself another wagon, but I was fiddling this and fiddling that. I’d buy anything, a little bit here and there which kept me going. Politics had hit the North East really hard taking the hearts and souls of men and women into poverty in the North East. Everything was closing down so by 1984 I’d gone bankrupt. I lost my house, I lost everything and I decided to move to London. I came with a group of people and we invested in a lot of crime. Eventually I got arrested for supplying a class A drug and I was looking at fourteen to eighteen years. I’d lost everything, my family everything, and I was in a pretty hopeless state in Brixton prison. None of the friends I thought I had came to see me. One thought I had at the time – and it still sticks with me – I remember voicing it to the Irish priest, ‘For forty eight and a half years I’ve struggled and strived to be a man with money. And it’s just hit me,’ I said, ‘It doesn’t matter how many millions I would have acquired; it would have been absolutely futile because I couldn’t spend it. Here I am in prison and everyone would be spending it but me.’
It was then I heard God speak to me
And then I’m doing what every good Irish Catholic does, what his mother taught him to do at a very early age, I prayed! I prayed three times a day – big trouble prayers. Then one night the Lord spoke to me, just like as if I’m sitting here talking with you, and I was wondering to myself, who’s going to believe me, an alcoholic? Then this voice, it spoke out of me, it said, ‘I do, my son. You see, God loves all his children.’ Well, I have to tell you that absolutely terrified me. I thought that there was this awesome fearful thing right there in that cell, and I couldn’t comprehend it. The God I’d feared since childhood had got me cornered. Thoughts from childhood returned to me. My heart was pounding, bumping, pumping and bumping and I’m shouting and saying all sorts. I’m saying, ‘Lord, is this what you’re going to do with me? Is this how you are, that you are the God people have told me about? You’ve revealed yourself to me and you’ve come to strike me down. I’m going to lie down dead in a minute.’ I’m thinking I’m going to die of a heart attack, the way my heart is palpitating and pumping. I’m going on and on like this and a screw opens the flan of the door and says, ‘What’s going on?’ He was old and he had grey hair and honestly, as I saw him, he absolutely terrified me! I had no idea what was going on. I said, ‘I don’t want to see you, get Mr. Hughes!’ I must have rung the bell in my desperation. Mr Hughes was a good screw, only a young man, and he came to my cell door. He said, ‘What’s going on Tony?’ I said, ‘I’m afraid.’ He said, ‘Why are you afraid?’ In those days, if you said you had a visitation from the Lord you were off to the cream house and never seen again. So he said again, ‘What are you afraid of, Tony?’ I said, ‘I can’t tell you.’ So I was giving him any old garbage as long as I wasn’t going to tell him about this God and what had just happened. They were asking my mate if I could move into his cell for the night and when they had moved me over to the cell my mate said this to me, ‘What’s going on? Everyone could hear you shouting.’ I said quietly, ‘I’ve had a visitation from the Lord. I’ve come to save you.’ He said to me, ‘Do you wanna puff? Do you wanna joint, yeh? The enemy is very subtle isn’t he? The next morning when my mate went down for tea he came back and said that a lot of them thought I’d flipped and that I shouldn’t say nothing, so I said nothing for days. I asked the priest to come and see me, and he did, four days later, but he wouldn’t believe me, either. What’s the world coming to when yer priest won’t relieve that you’ve seen God? When it came to my trial I pleaded not guilty and had been in the witness stand all the day before, because the copper who had nicked me had asked me if I could get him some dope so it was entrapment. That night after I’d been in the witness box all day I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t sleep. The next morning I’m getting ready in the wash up and back to my cell to get changed, put my suit on, and then the screw arrives to take me to Court. As I leave the cell the Lord says to me, ‘Go back and open your Bible.’ Now this is what had happened the day before. One of my colleagues, a former ofender out on bail, had looked after my wife when I was on remand and I’d done a deal with him, that I would tell a little white lie which would give him a very good chance of getting off. But listen to what happened, the Lord says to me ‘Go back into your cell and open your Bible,’ so I went and I opened my Bible and it was at Proverbs 6: ‘My son, if you have put up security for your neighbour, if you have struck hands in pledge for another, if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbour’s hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbour!’
Then this is when the penny really dropped:
‘Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler.’
I changed my plea to guilty !!
I knew I had gone and entrapped myself and that is why the Lord would not let me sleep. When you’re in the box in any court on a trial of the magnitude that I was on, you never get to see anyone because there are two screws with you. They go everywhere with you, they go to the toilet with you and lock you up in your cell, everything. In Snaresbrook you go underground from the cells to the court. But when I was going into court that day there was this lad, the one I’d made a deal with, walking past and I said to him, ‘I’ve got to retract what I said yesterday, but don’t worry, I’m not a grass, never would grass anyone up.’ As soon as I said that I felt light, this thing had gone, this fear. I felt great and free of it. In court, I said, ‘Your honour, I want to change my plea from not guilty to guilty.’ The court was absolutely packed and he said, ‘I beg your pardon.’ I said, ‘I want to change my plea from not guilty to guilty, and I want my barrister to ask me all the questions he asked me yesterday because I think I unwittingly told some lies.’ He said to me, ‘Are you feeling all right?’ and I said, ‘Yes sir.’ I’m not looking at him, he’s right there, but I’m looking ahead and the prosecutor stood up and I know he’s just sitting there like a lion on a doe, and I know he’s got me. Then the judge said to me, ‘Why do you want to change your plea?’ ‘Well’, I said, ‘I’ve come to the conclusion, your honour, that I can’t relate to the criminal brain that I had when all these events happened because I am no longer that same person.’ I’m looking ahead, I’m not looking at him, and I can’t comprehend what’s really happening. It’s the Holy Spirit working but I’m not understanding this at the time, you see, it’s just how I felt. The prosecutor comes up and says that we haven’t got time for all this and I say, ‘Your honour, this guy here is on about time and I’ve been stuck in a cell for thirteen and a half months, twenty three hours a day, not knowing why I was there. So, today, if you will accept my plea of guilty and the screw takes me back to my cell and locks the door, I will know why I’m there.’ ‘Well,’ he says, ‘Can you be explicit as to why you want to change your plea?’ ‘Yes, your honour, I want to change my plea from not guilty to guilty, because I have sinned against almighty God who is my father in heaven, and against my fellow man.’ And he says to me, ‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ And I says, ‘I can assure you, your honour, that I have never felt better in my entire life.’ And all the court went ‘ooooh!’ and then they recessed for twenty minutes.
Apparently the confession was so sincere they actually thought I was going to die! They thought it was a last rite thing so when they came back the judge says to me that he’ll accept my plea providing I will see a doctor. I said, ‘That’s OK, that’s fine by me.’ So they sent me back to the cell and they accepted my plea. The doctor came. It must have cost them a fortune, this big doctor from Harley Street. He says, ‘Well, you’ve only got indigestion.’ I says, ‘I could have told you that before you got your stethoscope out of the bag.’ So that was it. In the end I got five years. I was shipped to Wandsworth prison and I told this Catholic priest what had happened and he looked at me as if I was mad. He had this Assistant Chaplain who came down over a couple of weeks taking notes. He’s sitting at one end of the table and I’m at the other end telling him everything and he’s looking at my eyes all the time as if to see if there was any flaw in my story. He wasn’t listening to me; he was thinking he’d heard all this before, another one who’s trying for parole. But the Lord is so gracious. A woman came to vet me for parole, goes away and comes back again and says she’s going to recommend an open prison. This is unheard of. They were really strict about supplying a class A drugs in the 90’s, really heavy. One poor lad got five years for an eighth of a gram of cocaine and I got only five years for half a kilo. She came back and said, ‘Upstairs they’re not having it, but I’ve decided, you’re going to an open prison.’ Three weeks after I came out of the court I picked my bible up.
It was 1 Timothy 6 verse 12:
‘Run your best in the race of faith and win eternal life for yourself; for it was to this life that God called you, when you firmly professed your faith before many witnesses.’
Those words just came straight from my mind to my heart and they’ve stuck with me ever since.
They never did believe me in Wandsworth but I wasn’t bothered, I wasn’t going to let anything deter me from my walk with the Lord. I started to get confused in Wandsworth because I couldn’t understand what God was doing in my life. The priest or chaplain thought I was working a scam and simple didn’t believe me. Worries about my family were concerning me and the word of God gave me comfort from Isaiah 32 v 18;
‘God’s people will be free from worries and their homes will be peaceful and safe.’
Where there is confusion there is impatience and I was full of it. Then the Lord took me to Isaiah 28:16.
‘So this is what the sovereign Lord says, See I lay a tested stone in Zion. A precious cornerstone for a sure foundation. The one who trusts me will never be dismayed.’
The Holy Spirit speaks
And I knew that the Lord was telling me to trust in Jesus.
I was sent to Stamford open prison. I sat down and talked with the chaplain Roger Green and he listened to what I had to say about my experiences and I knew that he believed me. One day when I felt that I couldn’t go on with this God thing it suddenly dawned on me that if He was real he could tell me Himself. I asked God to confirm what He had said to me on September 16th 1992 and sure enough God spoke to me through John 8 verse 47.
‘He who comes from God hears God’s words’.
That Sunday a group of Christians came in to prison to minister. They made an altar call and I responded and gave my life to Jesus. I knew my search was over. I heard the gospel and believed. But there was still something missing and still some confusion. I went to church, listened to all the visiting Christians and what the Lord was doing for them and I felt gutted. One night I said to this bloke next to me, ‘You Christians make me feel sick. You come in here saying that the Lord is doing this and that in your lives and I’m reading and studying the bible everyday and leading a good life in here but nothing like that is happening to me!’ He then asked me if I was baptised in the Holy Spirit and I told him that I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.
He showed me scriptures from Acts 1 v 4 which is where Jesus said,
‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit’.
I asked if I could be baptised in the Holy Spirit. He prayed and nothing happened. He then put his hand on the back of my head and started praying in a language I had never heard before and almost immediately a great peace and joy came to me. I have never experienced anything so beautiful in my entire lifetime. I was so full of the Holy Spirit and for four days I was on a high that nothing on earth could give me. I knew it wasn’t a trip. I now know that God doesn’t give you a trip but that He takes you on a journey. I got my parole on the due date and was released on February 20th 1994. I’d not been out long when Roger Green, the chaplain at Stamford Hill, phoned me up and said, ‘I’ve got a place for you to stay if you want and it’s at Stepping Stones on Clapham Common.’ I went up there, had the interview with manager Cameron Barker and after a week I moved in. I have to say that that was a rescue from the Lord because I don’t really know what would have happened if it hadn’t been for that place at Stepping Stones. I had big decisions to make. The drink had to go. I didn’t have the problem I’d had in the past but I was drinking and I knew it had to go. I knew I had to take stock. I knew I had to seek the Lord and I knew I really had to study God’s Word because the first thing that happened to me when I went to Stepping Stones was that there was a verse of scripture up on the wall;
Psalm 32 verse 8:
‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.’
The Lord has done that from that day to this, and I have to say that Stepping Stones gave me somewhere to take stock and focus on what I wanted my future to be. I couldn’t go where the criminal goes, although I know hundreds of them, I couldn’t go back to the old ground, back to my past, I had to go through this and decide what I was going to do with my walk with the Lord, otherwise I’m back on the street, thieving, meeting up with criminals, back on the drink. With that stay at Stepping Stones, and the move of the Lord in my life, it gave me time to pursue what abilities I had for work and ministry with the Lord. Without it I don’t really know what would have happened but I imagine it would have been back to the old ways with nobody to turn to. The pressure of where I was going to live and what I was going to eat was all eliminated in that decision to say I could move in. While I was there I got up one morning and the Lord spoke to me when I went to get milk for my tea and said, ‘I want you to sign off the dole.’ I thought, ‘this can’t be of the Lord’ but it was, and I signed off from the following Monday. The form asked me who was my employer and I put, ‘ Jesus’. It asked the place of my employment and I put ‘Heaven’. I got it down to the employment office and through their letterbox at the weekend and I can imagine what they said on the Monday, ‘Oh, we’ve got a right one here.’
If God calls you, and tells you, you’d best do it !!
The Lord told me to live by faith for 12 months. I was paying 112 pounds a week at Stepping Stones and I thought, this can’t be of the Lord. I’m not saying that’s what He’d say for everyone, but at that time, for me, that’s what He said and He provided everything for me. If God calls you, and tells you, you’d best do it! Unexpectedly, God called me to Spain, where I have tried so hard to learn the language so I can tell my story to people who think God cannot show personal love. The (Spanish language) church I am helping has grown in 12 months to more than 60, with lots of young people and we are looking to move to premises that will seat 450 people. I have become much more fond of the Spanish people and have made new friends who have been part of the healing process that put the hatred of my father deep into the past. From never feeling wanted, or that I ‘fitted in’ I now know that I am ‘accepted’- not only by God, but by people who love me for what – and Whose – I am. God has introduced me to (a Spanish man called) Jesus (pronounced hay-zoos) and we are in business painting houses and apartments. He tells the Spaniards about Jesus Christ and I tell the Brits. Please pray that the Spaniards will be able to understand – and thank God for – my testimony, when I can give it in their language.
Commit your life to God.
Do it before the devil, who took me to the depths of disgust and despair, gets a grip on your life, as well.
I’m not a RUDDY MESS any more. Thanks be to God!
Tony Ruddy (June 2019) lives in Alicante province of Spain and can be contacted at: Email: rudders21(at)hotmail(dot)com
Telephone: 0034-698 280 573
23 March 2007
Reproduced by kind permission of the author
Page revised 6th July 2019