Atmore resident Frank Gossett began administering his Breaking Every Chain ministry as assistant chaplain of Holman Correctional Facility four years ago. When he assumed the position he brought with him a desire to help inmates in the notorious prison, where the state’s most hardened criminals, including those who reside on Death Row, are housed, find a path out of their respective lives of crime.
It wasn’t that long ago, though, that Gossett was on the other side of the concertina wire-covered fence.
His desire to help others, coupled with first-hand knowledge of what life was like as a state inmate, have earned him a degree of notoriety that few ex-cons ever attain.
Gossett, a former heavy user of cocaine who spent two tenures behind bars, celebrated nine years of sobriety on February 5. He has become a beacon in the prison rehabilitation debate, where his work inside and outside Holman has even drawn the attention of Gov. Robert Bentley.
During Bentley’s recent State of the State address, the governor cited the Atmore minister’s effort to build a new life as a prime example that prisoners can be rehabilitated.
The state’s chief executive officer noted that the former inmate, who was convicted of criminal acts that generated money to feed his cocaine habit, was “caught in the web of addiction to alcohol as well.”
Bentley also noted that Gossett found himself back among the state inmate population after once gaining his freedom, but this time was led down a different path by another prisoner.
“Once he was released, it wasn’t long before he was back in prison,” the governor said. “But this time a fellow inmate helped Frank give his life to Christ and although he was still behind bars, Frank will tell you he was set free of the bondage of drugs, alcohol, suicide, depression, victimizing others and guilt.
“He went through faith-based counseling and character programs, and when he was released, Frank became an assistant chaplain at Alabama’s death row facility, Holman Prison, where he ministers to the men who are incarcerated there.”
Gossett and Deborah Daniels were invited guests of the governor and were presented as living proof that criminal pasts could be washed away through faith-based rehabilitation programs.
“The governor asked for inmates that are out and doing well, and I was one of the names that were brought to his attention,” Gossett said. “The governor introduced me and the other former inmate, and we got a standing ovation and had a lot of people come up afterwards and talk about how great it is to see that it is possible to be rehabilitated. It is.”
Gossett pointed out that his conversion was actually the product of efforts by a fellow inmate and a prison chaplain.
“Somebody saw something in me at one point and shared the Gospel with me, even while I was still in prison, still doing drugs, still doing the crazy stuff I was doing on the streets,” the Atmore man, who was granted a full pardon in 2013, explained. “There was a chaplain, Steve Walker, at Bullock Correctional Facility who was very instrumental in that, and another inmate (Robert Whitson) actually led me to the Lord.”
Gossett stressed that family support, something that many inmates lack, is also important in a prisoner’s rehabilitation. He cited himself as living proof.
“I would like, most and foremost, for people to know to never give up on your family,” he said. “I meet so many guys whose family just turns its back on them. I try to encourage them by telling them that’s the same situation I was in. My family couldn’t trust me.
“Now my dad will tell you real quick how proud he is of me. Our relationship was never good, growing up, but when I called him after the State of the State, he answered the phone laughing and said he had watched the whole thing. My dad’s now a great supporter of what I do, a great encourager, and I’m just glad God reconciled our relationship.”
District 66 State Rep. Alan Baker, who represents Escambia and Baldwin counties, said Gossett has provided a valuable service to the state through his prison ministry.
“I am not personally familiar with Mr. Gossett beyond the remarks made by Governor Bentley that evening,” Baker said. “With the known risks and challenges inherent in any prison setting, the State of Alabama is privileged to have Mr. Frank Gossett extend of himself in such a strong manner to provide rehabilitative support to those incarcerated at Holman Prison … and for the service he renders, our State is grateful.”
Gossett, who also teaches a Celebrate Recovery class at Century Correctional Institution in Florida, admitted that the acclaim he has received is nice, especially since it helps spread the word that Christian faith is the key to reversing one’s life course.
“It’s easy to bear, religiously,” he said. “It does make my shoes a little bigger to fill each morning, but I’m proud of what God has done in my life, and I want to share it with as many people as I can. When I go into these prisons, even guys here at Holman that I’ve done time with, will see me and come up to me with tears in their eyes, and say: ‘Man, you’re still showing me that there’s hope.’ That makes it all worthwhile.”