Reformed hardmen from London’s East End visited Dromore recently to share the life-lessons they have learned.
Among them was one-time world champion powerlifter and successful businessman Arthur White (65) who put on a show of strength when he dropped in on Dromore Elim Church.
There he spoke too of his descent into, and escape from, a life of drugs, violence, fear and “madness”.
A working-class grafter, Mr White built up his own business in the 1980s until he was managing 250 men, “turning over a few million” a year, driving a top-of-the-range car and owned homes in Spain.
In addition, he had become a world-class athlete, earning nine British powerlifting titles as well as six European and four world titles.
His record deadlift of 380kg (838 pounds) in the 110kg open category in 1982 remains unbeaten today.
His other personal bests were 220kg (484 pounds) in the bench press and 355kg (781 pounds) in the squat.
However, then came “four years of madness” from 1989 to 1993.
“Anabolic steroids opened the door to everything, including cocaine and speed,” said Mr White. “I went from a relatively normal man to having an adulterous affair, leaving my wife and kids.”
His business also nose-dived and he began to work as an illegal debt-collector and nightclub doorman to survive.
“I was now living a violent life fuelled by drugs,” he said. “I was living a life permanently full of fear; people were coming after me. I had very bad depression and, in the end, tried to take my own life.”
One day in the early hours of the morning Mr White had just finished two brawls while collecting debts in the largest fruit and vegetable market in London. “It was the lowest point in my life,” he said.
Bloodied and bowed, the man who knew nothing about church or religion stood in a car park and “cried out to God”.
“I had a road to Damascus experience,” he said. “I felt all the fear and paranoia leave me.”
He dumped the various weapons he carried and embarked on a process of reclaiming his life.
It took painful months and years for his life to come back together, including a reconciliation with his wife.
“A lot of my former associates thought I had lost the plot,” he said. “I bumped into a few enemies and they were even more frightened of me than before. I said sorry and asked for forgiveness. Some of them ran off petrified.”
Mr White lost his entire fortune but is grateful for his family and a second chance at life.
He has teamed up with around a dozen others – including Ian McDowall – from similar backgrounds to form a group called ‘Tough Talk’. Mr McDowall was a champion bodybuilder who began to work as a bouncer at 18. He too was also brought to his knees by a life of steroids and crime.
The group has visited prisons across the globe and Mr White and Mr McDowall recently visited the young offenders’ centre in Bangor.
“They listened very respectfully and we gave out some of our books,” said Mr McDowall. “I said to them: ‘You have a choice to make in life; make a good one and you will have a good life; make a bad one and your life can be tough. “