Top News

Former bank robber and pool hustler shares story with Islanders about finding redemption

Former bank robber turned ordained minister Ted Nellis, left, chats with Pastor Jeff Eastwood before speaking at Charlottetown’s Grace Baptist Church earlier this year. Nellis also spoke at the Calvary Church in Charlottetown, Elmsdale Church of the Nazarene and did a chapel service in the Provincial Correctional Centre on Sleepy Hollow Road while on P.E.I. for New Life Prison Ministry’s 12-day speaking tour through the Maritimes.
Former bank robber turned ordained minister Ted Nellis, left, chats with Pastor Jeff Eastwood before speaking at Charlottetown’s Grace Baptist Church earlier this year. Nellis also spoke at the Calvary Church in Charlottetown, Elmsdale Church of the Nazarene and did a chapel service in the Provincial Correctional Centre on Sleepy Hollow Road while on P.E.I. for New Life Prison Ministry’s 12-day speaking tour through the Maritimes. - Mitch MacDonald

Ted Nellis doesn’t run from his past anymore.

Instead, the former bank robber turned ordained minister and author uses it as a message of hope for others.

Nellis was a 19-year-old pool hustler and involved in petty crime when he robbed two banks, in Calgary and Guelph in 1979.

While he was caught shortly after the second robbery, his downfall ultimately led to him finding redemption through God.

“Getting caught was the best thing that could have happened because there would have been another one, and another one… it was easy money and I was just a really lost guy,” said Nellis, who shared his story at Charlottetown’s Grace Baptist Church earlier this year during a Maritimes speaking tour with New Life Prison Ministries.

“My message is that in Christ, God can take our mess and turn it into his message of hope, for everyone and anyone.”

Nellis’ descent began when he quit school in Grade 9 with hopes of becoming a professional pool player.

While he made good money on the pool table, he also drank a lot and would often find himself broke and sleeping in hostels.

It was a cycle that lasted for years.

“One day I just woke up tired of it, robbing banks wasn’t a planned thing,” said Nellis.

Hungover, hungry and broke, Nellis and an acquaintance decided to rob a Calgary bank for quick money.

They were unarmed, with Nellis sliding a note to the clerk stating he had a gun and to hand over the money.

The two got away with a little less than $3,000 each and decided to lay low in Nellis’ hometown of Guelph, Ont.

But the money didn’t last long.

“We were broke again in six weeks.”

They soon planned a second robbery, this time at the bank Nellis’ parents used.

Although they were able to get the money, the two were also unexpectedly chased by a bank manager.

After losing the manager, they had to hide out in Nellis’ parents’ house only about a block away from the bank and were soon caught by police.

“My message is that in Christ, God can take our mess and turn it into his message of hope, for everyone and anyone.”
-Ted Nellis

Because of his age, he was the youngest inmate in Kingston Penitentiary at the time, Nellis was able to get a five-year sentence and served two years before being paroled.

He then lived a straight life, started a successful janitorial business and had a family of three children before he was 30.
However, in many ways he was still lost.

“I never went back to jail because I hated prison life. I didn’t walk out a changed man,” said Nellis, whose marriage ultimately fell apart. “Inside, I was not a very happy person at all, I was drinking heavily, and my past haunted me.”

Nellis’ life began changing a couple of years later when he noticed a coffee shop flyer advertising a speech by Serge LeClerc, who Nellis had briefly shared a prison cell with.

He was surprised to see LeClerc, who was a career criminal and drug lord, was now a born-again Christian sharing his story of redemption throughout North America.

Nellis went to see LeClerc’s speech and was struck by his former cell-mates transformation.

“I couldn’t believe it, this was not the same man I had known in prison,” said Nellis, noting that LeClerc later went on to become a Saskatchewan MLA. “That was beginning of change for me… I didn’t give my life to Christ that day but it certainly got me thinking about God.”

Nellis said he put his faith and trust in Jesus Christ and quit drinking at 37. He was later baptized at 40.

“When I came out of those baptism waters, it was profound. The old man really did die and I really had a new heart, spirit and mind for Christ,” said Nellis, who began volunteering with charities and groups working with street youth and the homeless.

Nellis has since spread his message of God’s forgiveness through his autobiography “Journey to Redemption” as well as a smaller booklet called “The Company We Keep”,

The profits from his book go back into purchasing more and donating them to institutions throughout Canada.

To date, Nellis and his wife have donated more than 2,000 copies of his book towards prison ministry throughout Canada, with a few copies reaching the United States.

While Nellis found his story was hard to tell for many years, he said he has since come to peace with his past and sees it as part of his larger journey to finding God’s forgiveness.

He also hopes sharing it helps others overcome their past struggles, much like LeClerc did for him.

“I came to see my past was not the story, the story is what God did out of that. So now I don’t run from it anymore… it’s a springboard for me to share the gospel,” said Nellis. “Grace is for you, it’s not for the select few, the gifted or talented. God doesn’t look at ability, just availability.”


Twitter.com/Mitch_PEI

Recent Stories