'I'm rectifying my mistakes': Heavily-tattooed former gangster becomes a vicar

Mark Rowan outside of the Braunton Coastal Community Church, Devon

A heavily-tattooed former 'gangster' has swapped his life of crime and turned to the church - to become a vicar.

Reverend Mark Rowan, 41, was a former junkie who spent more than 17 years in and out of jail for a variety of drugs, theft and violent offences.

Former gang leader Mark - who had previously "only gone to church to steal lead from the roof" - found God during a prolonged spell inside.

Determined to turn his life around he left prison and underwent five years training at theological college before being ordained.

Rev Mark said: "I have full reverend status. This was the first exam I have ever taken and it is a huge achievement for me.

"The only time I wasn't committing crime was when I was sleeping. I carried knives and was involved with gangs.

"I used heroin, cocaine and cannabis and lived a crazy life. A lot of my friends are either dead or serving life sentences in prison.

"The only time I went to church was for the lead on the roof. I had no respect for Jesus and never thought about being a Christian."

Yorkshire-born Mark began his christian mission following his release from Channings Wood Prison in 2000 when he moved to Exeter, Devon.

Mark met and married wife Andrea, a clinical psychologist, and started using negativity from his past as a positive in his new life.

Mark, who has a huge demon angel holding a skull inked onto his back, has written an autobiography entitled 'Condemned'.

He said: "It is great to be carrying an inspirational story of transformation and encouraging people that it is never too late to change."

Mark, who admits he is not an average village vicar, became a pastor a Braunton Costal Community Church in Devon two years ago.

The tough-talking priest said: "I didn't get any qualifications in life other than being a vicious criminal.

"I felt that was the only way I knew - I was more comfortable in prison with murderers and psychos than I was on the streets.

"The only time when I wasn't committing a crime was when I was asleep or in prison. I was a 24-7 active criminal."

After seeing his work go from strength to strength, he is now launching a new outreach service in Barnstaple, to help troubled youth.

Father-of-five Rev Mark said: "If my old self could see the new me, I would be inspired with what I am doing now. I am trying to get children to steer themselves away from the life of crime.

"My children and family are all very proud of me now, I wasn't around for their childhoods but now I am making up for lost time and rectifying my mistakes.

"Many of my family didn't believe that I would survive much longer from my previous life.

"People were kicking doors of my family homes with shotguns and baseball bats, contracts were out on my life - for me to come out the other side unscathed is a miracle."

Mark, having escaped a life of violence and crime, has now settled down to a quiet life in a sleepy Devon village, with wife Andrea, with whom he has two young children.

He said: "The community here have welcomed me with open arms, when they first saw me I am not sure what they thought.

"I have tattoos from my neck, down to my feet, but now, after two years, everyone is great and we all get on so well."

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