Nigel Williams was put into care as a child and has been in 18 different prisons. But meeting Christ set him free from his addictions and self-harm, and now he loves to share the good news with everyone he meets
I grew up in a little town near Mansfield with my mum, who had schizophrenia, and my grandma. I wasn’t looked after properly and would play out on the streets from the age of five. I was hard to control and didn’t go to school. I would steal cigarettes and money from my mum.
One evening, I woke up in the middle of the night and I could see smoke coming from underneath the door. I woke my mum and grandma up. Mum called the fire service and grandma tried to put the fire out but was beaten back by the flames. I was hiding under my bed and the floor was getting hotter and hotter. Eventually, a fireman pulled me out.
After the fire, which was caused by one of mum’s cigarettes, social services took me into care. I was taken to see my mum every couple of weeks, but sometimes she wouldn’t turn up.
A life of crime
As a teenager, I stole fags and sold them at school. Then I broke into a pub and stole booze. After that, I began to burgle houses. The first time I went to prison, I was beaten for weeks by two other inmates until, finally, a prison officer saw the state of my back and I was taken to the hospital wing. Later, I hit two officers with a jug and was threatened with a ten-year sentence.
Even though I was in a secure hospital I felt so free. I ran out of the door of the chapel and said: “Jesus is alive!”
I was transferred from prison to a secure hospital because I had a breakdown. My mum died, which left me depressed. Voices had tormented me for years – they made me smash things or stick a knife into myself. I’ve got 62 scars on my body from self-harming. When in prison, I was put in solitary confinement for months because I used to self-harm or get into fights. I was in and out of 18 different prisons, two secure hospitals, dozens of mental health hospitals and four bail hostels.
While I was in prison in Hull, Christians visited every Tuesday. I worked in the kitchen and brought them sandwiches or cups of tea. It was good to talk to them, even though I didn’t believe. I wanted to, but I needed evidence; I wanted proof that Jesus Christ was real.
One of my questions was: “How can there be a God when my life is a complete mess?” People in prison had beat me with pillowcases full of boots, jars and stones. They’d laugh at me and ridicule me. I thought: If there is a God, he’s not really helping me and I don’t want to follow him. When these Christians came in, I tried to say that their God wasn’t real and picked faults all the time. But the only fool there was me, and I’m so glad God had mercy on me.
One day, I had an experience in the prison chapel when these Christians prayed for me. I went down in the Spirit and, suddenly, the prison bars didn’t seem to have any hold on me any more. I was filled with joy, peace and love as someone led me to Christ.
Even though I was in a secure hospital I felt so free. I ran out of the chapel and said: “Jesus is alive!” One of the doctors said: “Put him on more medication, nurse,” but I was experiencing the Holy Spirit for the first time.
Once I became a Christian, I felt guilty for my crimes. It hit me like a bombshell. For years I suffered from the shame and guilt of what I did to people’s homes and all the drugs I sold to people. The enemy was trying to keep me trapped. I thought: You might as well end your life now. Everyone hates you. You’re a piece of scum. You have no right to be a Christian. It took me several years to overcome that lying voice.
A simple prayer
I used to swear all the time but, when I got saved, that went straight away. Other addictions took longer. One day my friend Martin came to my flat, and saw loads of empty larger cans stacked in the corner. He said: “Nige, do you want to give up this addiction?” I said: “Of course I do! But I’m trapped. I even need a drink when I wake up at four in the morning.”
All Martin said was: “Lord Jesus, just set Nigel free from the addiction of alcohol.” Then he went to my fridge, took the cans I had and went home. I thought: You cheeky thing! I’m going to go to the shop if this feeling of needing a drink doesn’t go away, and I’m going to buy some more. But I said to God: “I’ll just give it another hour and see how I feel.” An hour went by, and I didn’t need a drink. The next morning when I woke up, I didn’t have the shakes or any cravings. I’d been addicted since the age of eleven. It had ruined my life. I couldn’t believe a simple prayer had set me free.
Now I go out on the streets each week to share my faith. Even with mental illness, I still evangelise because I know God is real. I love to pray for people. Some Christians are afraid to go, and there’s so much that I fear too. I still have schizophrenia, but God gives me the ability to stand and preach in a packed market in Sheffield and see people come to Christ.
Nigel Williams was speaking to Sam Hailes. For the full story see From Darkness to Light by Andy Bates (Kingdom Publishers)