02 June 2015
John Finlinson, ex-offender
As an ex-offender, John Finlinson takes his music into prisons and can relate with inmates. Finnymusic, a band of mostly ex-offenders or ex-addicts, has a passion for sharing how Jesus has changed their lives. He lives in Woodbridge, Suffolk, as a self-employed landscape gardener. He adores spending time outdoors and with his wife and four children.
How were your teenage years?
I had a broken family. I was lost and caught up in habits I couldn’t break. First, I was bored. I got in trouble with the police for petty crime, break-ins and stuff. But as I got older I started getting involved in fighting and getting more respect from my friends. It was a false identity. I got attention through what I did and sank into a deeper circle of crime; drugs and violence. I was sent to prison when I was about 12 years old.
What happened in prison?
I was in and out of prison for a few years. It wasn’t until my last prison sentence that God met me. I’d been on a hill in Devon just before, calling out to something out there – not known as God then – to reveal their self to me. I was hungry for some truth, any truth. Within a couple of days I was in custody, but this pretty much turned out to be the answer to my prayer. Instead of wanting to use the Gideon Bible pages in the cell as cigarette rolling papers, suddenly I felt like I actually wanted to read it. The first words I read related to my desperation for truth: “Speak the truth,” and: “The truth shall set you free.” My trial was due in court and even though I could have got away with a lot, I was convicted to tell the truth and plead guilty, meaning a longer sentence. A tough decision. I then served four of six years. To begin with it was just me and God, but He lead me to people who could grow me. I didn’t want a transfer, but it was a decision to go to Dartmoor simply because the chaplaincy team were on fire and the like-minded believers I needed. I prayed for a guitar without anyone knowing. The next day one of the chaplains asked if I played and a guitar was offered. That same guitar is the one I use today.
What has been the hardest part of this journey?
The first steps are tough. For some it’s giving up drugs, for me it was going to that judge. When guys in prison convert they get the message, but then need the strength. Many of these guys need restoration in their families. I remember going back into Dartmoor after release and noticing a scared elderly couple, parents on a first-time visit. I went out to a quarry and looked at the rocks. God showed me that the rocks behind the larger ones are impacted when the big rocks are kicked. The guys inside are the rock, but behind them are others – parents and children – who are badly affected. If these men are changed by Christ, we are then touching all those other ‘rocks’. That continually inspires me.
What can the Church do better for ex-offenders?
The Church is doing better now than a decade ago at responding to ex-offenders. However I set up a group called the scallywags because my experience was that I got passed from one house group to a ‘more suitable’ house group because I didn’t fit. This happens all too often, just because someone’s background differs to the middle-class comfort zone. It only takes a few people with the wrong attitude to leave ex-inmates feeling rejected by Church and going off the rails again. The re-offending rate is very high and we need to reach out and offer alternatives and love.
So you take your music into prison now?
Yeah. My band are all Christians – ex-offenders and ex-addicts. We are filled with gratitude of what Christ has done for us and want to share that without preaching at people. We tell our story through our songs – music is a universal language for those in prison: homeless people, soldiers in barracks or old people etc. Even though mostly drum and bass, we vary it for different audiences and can do acoustic sets.
What’s the result?
Usually they expect sandal-wearing Christians with cheesy songs, a guitar and a triangle. We break the stereotypes because most of us have tattoos and teeth missing, like them. We have the same background. They often want to come back next week. Music rests kinder on their ears and it carries the message. It is not how they respond then and there that we measure, but we know that seeds are planted and can cause life change, which gives life eternal. There is nothing more purposeful than that.
We have a music video in the pipeline – a track called Thank You about finding faith and fresh hope inside. In prison we might get an audience of 20 men, but there are so many people who are prisoners on the streets - prisoners to addiction, suicidal thoughts or violence. By putting stuff out on YouTube we want to reach much wider with the gospel.