Midlife Musings

A blog by John W. Kennedy

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Going Back to Prison, Voluntarily

By John W. Kennedy | April 23, 2009

Steve “Gator” Gaede is an unlikely person to be ministering to inmates every Friday at Maricopa County, Ariz., Jail. Born with a severe facial deformity, he spent a haunted childhood undergoing numerous experimental operations and being taunted by other children because of his double cleft lip and palette. Understandably, he grew up angry and mean. He didn’t speak intelligibly until age 15. By that time he already had been sentenced to a juvenile center, his first stop on a road to being a seven-time felon.

gator.jpgThese days, Gaede, 52, goes to prisons and jails in the Phoenix area several times a week — as a staff pastor of Church on the Street, the Dream Center-sponsored ministry of Phoenix First Assembly of God. Gaede graduated from Church on the Street’s boot camp 15 years ago.

On a recent Friday, I saw him interact with inmates at the county jail. About three dozen prisoners filed into a narrow nondescript room designated as the chapel. Those incarcerated must wear black- and white-striped uniforms, pink socks and pink undershirts.

Gaede preached a little and sang a lot while playing guitar in the service. Wearing a black cowboy hat, blue jeans and cowboy boots, Gaede crooned rockabilly gospel songs such as “It’s Finally My Day,” “Don’t Give Up This Time” and “I Shall Not Be Defeated.” Inmates sing along from the “My Life Was a Shambles” songbook Gaede distributed. He composed 35 tunes in the book.

The inmates, mostly in their 20s, respond to Gaede, some even calling out requests for him to sing their favorite song from the collection. Clearly, the ever-smiling Gaede demonstrates that he has real compassion for these men who have messed up somehow. With cornball humor amid serious stories, Gaede effectively conveys how God’s grace transformed him after years of alcohol and drug addiction.

The service is a bright spot for many at the jail. As the men exited the room, another group of shackled inmates waited in the hallway to enter.

To read more about the ministry of Church on the Street, pick up Today’s Pentecostal Evangel at church next Sunday.

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2 Responses to “Going Back to Prison, Voluntarily”

  1. jo Says:
    October 24th, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Pastor Gator is a good man, thanks for talking about him

  2. cleft palette Says:
    April 5th, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    […] who are born with a cleft lip and/or palette. … Mail (will not be published) (required) …Going Back to Prison, Voluntarily at Midlife MusingsBorn with a severe facial deformity, he spent a haunted childhood undergoing numerous experimental […]

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