Former inmate returns as prison chaplain, brings message of hope, forgiveness

Frank Gossett started drinking when he was 8. He was doing drugs by 11. And every day, his father told him he would never amount to anything.

“I grew up in the Birmingham area with a dad who was an alcoholic,” Gossett said. “He told me all the time that I was worthless.”

Gossett was on a fast track to prison, and that’s exactly where he ended up. In fact, it’s where he’s still supposed to be.

But these days he walks through the halls of the prison jingling the keys to the doors that once locked him up.

“I like to say that jingling is me putting the devil on notice that he doesn’t have a hold on me anymore,” said Gossett, who now carries out prison ministry in the very place he served time.

The first time he arrived as an inmate was not long after his wife committed suicide at 28, and he tried to take his own life with drug overdoses, blaming himself for her death.

“At the time, I was selling drugs but had gotten on crack cocaine really bad. When I went to prison the first time, it was for theft of property to support my drug habit,” he said, a habit that at the time cost him $200 to $300 a day.

Gossett didn’t stay long on his first conviction, but the second one got him 25 years.

“When I was arrested and booked into the county jail, I weighed 118 pounds,” he said. “I was doing so many drugs at the time.”

He was spiraling, but someone found him at the bottom, he said — a fellow inmate who told him about Jesus.

“He was doing two life sentences for the same charges as me — theft of property,” Gossett said. “He led me to Jesus, and I gave my life to the Lord.”

Feb. 5 marked 12 years since that day — and 12 years clean and sober.

“God took my addiction away that day,” he said.

Gossett got involved in seminary classes offered at the prison and learned to study the Bible. He started preaching anywhere they would let him — in the yard, in the chapel, anywhere.

“What’s amazing about that is I quit school when I was younger because I didn’t like getting up in front of people and speaking,” he said.

From there, God worked more miracles, Gossett said. The prison staff put him up for an early release program he didn’t think he qualified for. He got out after serving just shy of five years, then graduated from a halfway house ministry in Atmore.

Overcoming the past

He became involved in church, and a connection he made there offered to help with starting his paperwork to ask for an official pardon. But the person helping him found something out — remaining indictments against him that he didn’t know about.

“I had an outstanding felony and misdemeanor indictment,” he said. “That would’ve put me in prison for the rest of my life.”

So he did all he knew to do — he collected letters of recommendation and gave them to the prosecuting attorney, and as she read his letters, she said, “I’m a Christian too, and I’d like to help you if I can.” She spoke to the first judge, and he gave Gossett fines and restitution.

As they waited for the other presiding judge to arrive, the two talked about Jesus at her invitation. In the end, the second judge also sentenced Gossett to fines and restitution — a total of around $18,000.

That was Aug. 7, 2011. Exactly two years later, he got a full pardon in Montgomery, which gave him all his rights back. And in the time in between, God sent person after person his way who felt impressed to help him financially as he struggled to pay his debt while working part-time at a grocery store. He paid his restitution in three months, and he began raising funds to become a chaplain with the We Care Program, a prison ministry headquartered in Atmore. He calls his personal ministry Breaking Every Chain.

“It surprises me every day to see the things God has done and the things He continues to do,” Gossett said. “The greatest things that have happened in my life were things I wasn’t really pursuing or asking God for.”

That includes his wife, Kathryn, whom he married in 2013 after the two met doing ministry in church. While serving as an assistant chaplain at Bullock Correctional Facility, he saw around a dozen men baptized every week. He recently participated in We Care’s annual prison revival, Renew Hope, at two prisons in Florida and 31 men gave their life to Jesus.

Gene Bridgman — director of missions for Bullock Baptist Association and pastor of Eastside Baptist Church, where Gossett and his wife attend — said Gossett’s faith is genuine and God is using him greatly.

Making a difference

“He and his wife, Kathryn, their faith is real, and their commitment to other people is real,” said Bridgman, noting that Gossett often fills in for him in the pulpit. “It’s made a difference in our church; it’s made a difference in people’s lives, and I think it’s going to make a difference in our area.”

Bridgman said he’s been impressed by the way Gossett wanted to go back into the prisons as a chaplain immediately after being released.

But Gossett said he just can’t help but want to take hope to the place where he once needed it most.

“I had a guy tell me one night, ‘I’ve got to tell you that when I see you with the keys to the locks that once contained you, it gives me hope,’” he said. “That’s why my ministry is called Breaking Every Chain. You can’t get so far down that God can’t pick you up.”

For more information, visit facebook.com/breakingeverychainministry. If you would like Gossett to speak to your congregation, call him at 251-348-3890.