PITTSTON — Angel Johnson was an adolescent out of control.
Ask him; he’ll tell you.
But that was years ago. Now 16, Angel has turned his life around — you might say he has fought his way to a better place.
Angel is one of several members of the Greater Pittston Boxing Academy, formerly called Pulpit Boxing, founded by Pastor Samuel Washington of Perspective Church, 66 Broad St., a congregation with about 150 members. The boxing academy is at 70 Broad St., next door to the church.
Washington, 52, said he started his boxing program in the church basement. But as the numbers grew, the need for a bigger space became apparent. Washington found a corner space with glass walls, allowing passersby to clearly see what goes on inside and giving the young boxers a view of the world outside and what it has to offer.
Washington said his boxing program is 100 percent drug free, though it follows a self-policing policy. He expects participants to maintain good grades in school — and by that, he doesn’t mean just passing. He has also helped kids who have been victims of bullying.
With the help of adult volunteers, Washington has been at this for seven years. He said any kid or adult who is not engaged in something positive is at risk. The gym is open three days per week — Monday, Tuesday and Thursday — and the cost is $35 per month.
“We are here to help,” he said. “We have seen other programs that haven’t worked. You have to create interest and provide something that kids want to do.”
‘Always somebody tougher’
Washington’s philosophy is one that Angel Johnson bought into right from the beginning.
“I used to steal a lot and I was good at lying,” Angel said. “I would follow the wrong crowd. I wasn’t following the smart kids. I followed the ones going nowhere and who were always in trouble. Now I’m a leader.”
Washington said Angel was enthusiastic from the start, but he had to develop the discipline necessary to be successful.
“Angel had to learn when to be aggressive and when not to,” Washington said. “He had to develop consistency and learn the mental game.”
Angel said he was being bullied on social media.
“I told them I wasn’t going to fight them,” Angel said. “I invited them to the gym and told them to put the gloves on.”
Angel’s foes showed up. Who won?
“It was a draw,” he said. “But they learned that it’s not cool to act the way people in the street act.”
Washington said only few of the participants come with their parents, but they do need to get their parents’ consent.
“Our system will de-bully you in a minute,” Washington said. “They learn that there is always somebody tougher out there.”
Washington says he starts measuring each participant the second they walk through the gym’s door. He watches how they carry themselves and how they interact.
“That’s what I look for first — how you treat your fellow man,” Washington said. “If you treat your neighbor right, you contribute to society.”
Adults are also welcome to participate.
Jeannette and Chris Roundtree, a West Pittston couple, have been coming to the gym for seven years. Jeannette has lost 57 pounds since last summer. Chris loves to hit the big bag and spar.
“I was ready to get myself healthy,” Jeannette said. “This is a great program. I’m glad they are here.”
Angel started with Washington about seven years ago at age 9. Angel said he was difficult to discipline and showed little respect. Then he watched a TV show — “Beyond Scared Straight.”
“I decided to get away from those bad people,” Angel said. “I started coming to the gym. I’m proud of where I am now. I always knew I could do better in life.”
Angel now helps Washington in the gym. He works with younger kids and shows them how to wrap their hands and how to spar. Washington beams when he talks about Angel and his turnaround.
“It’s all about getting people off the street and away from drugs and bad people,” Washington said.
Angel wants to study music engineering in college. He also wants to be a boxer.
As Washington talks, Angel sits a few feet away and smiles.
“Pastor is always there for me,” the teen said. “He’s like a dad to me.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.