Preacher’s Kid Finds God in Prison

Boyce Bowdon

Boyce Bowdon

By Boyce Bowdon –

“I grew up in a Christian home and my father was a preacher,” said Aaron Cosar, “but I didn’t believe God loved me until I was in prison serving a life sentence for murder.”

During a recent interview, Cosar told me there was a time when he believed God was like his dad: “I thought God had strict rules and I could never please him.” So, during his teens he tried to stay as far away as he could from his father, from the church, and from God. During those years, he became addicted to alcohol and other drugs that hurt him and others. “I knew I needed to quit,” he said, “I tried, but I just could not get off the stuff. I meant to someday.”

On Friday evening — April 5, 1986, when he was 19 — Cosar went to a bar in the little Oklahoma town where he lived.  While he was there, he met a man in his forties. “We started drinking together,” Cosar recalled. “He was buying.  We went from bar to bar, and finally we went to his house to see his gun collection.  I liked one of his pistols and tried to steal it, but he caught me, and I shot him dead with it. I was scared, so I ran home.”

He said he woke up the next morning in a stupor. “At first, I thought I was having a bad dream.  But then I found the man’s pistol where I had stashed it away. That’s when I knew I wasn’t dreaming.”

Cosar was arrested, charged with murder, and put in the county jail to await trial.  At the trial, the young Native American was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole.

After he arrived at the state prison, he had two visitors.  One was a Pentecostal Holiness preacher, Benny Boeck, and the other was a Methodist preacher, Dean Leighton, who went by Lefty. “Both of them had come to see me while I was in the county jail,” Cosar said. “They wanted to talk to me about God. I had heard all I ever wanted to hear about God when I was a kid. Benny would get in my face and yell, ‘If you don’t repent, you are going to hell!’ I had hoped that once I got to prison, I would be rid of them.  But here they were again. So I tried to run them off, but they kept coming back.”

One afternoon when they came to see him, Cosar grabbed his urinal and slung the contents in their faces. “They went to the restroom, washed, and came back to my cell. Benny shouted at me even louder than usual, ‘If you don’t repent, you are going to hell.’ And Lefty looked me in the eyes and told me, ‘We’ll be back!’”

Cosar said he didn’t think they would come back.  But they did. “They could have easily walked off and left me alone. I know that’s what I would have done. I couldn’t keep from wondering why they didn’t.” After Cosar’s mind became less muddled by alcohol and drugs, he started thinking seriously about what he had done and what was in store for him.

“I went back behind a building at the prison one afternoon, putting my head between my legs and just cried like a baby,” he told me. “It dawned on me that I had killed a man. I was sorry, deeply sorry.  And I realized that I had lost my freedom. Now somebody was going to tell me what I could do and what I could not do every minute. They were going to tell me what to eat, when to go to bed. And unless I got paroled, I was going to be in prison until I died. My life meant nothing to me. I was ready for them to execute me and get it over with.”

Reflecting on what he had done, Cosar said he did what many people do after they are caught committing a crime. “I blamed what I had done on everybody I could think of.  I was the only one to blame. But I wouldn’t admit it.”

He said he gradually became less hostile to Benny and Lefty.  Finally, he went with them to the prison church. He met scores of volunteers who came to be with the prisoners. “Before long, I felt love flowing through the volunteers to me, just like I had started to feel love flowing through Benny and Lefty to me,” he said. Then during a worship service one day, Cosar said he suddenly became absolutely convinced that God loved him.

“I was so sorry for what I had done and I told God so. I felt God forgiving me and offering me a new life.  I accepted it.  I was still in prison, but I felt free. The consequences of my sins had not been cancelled—the man I shot was still dead.  I’d always be sorry about that. But I didn’t feel worthless anymore. My future was still uncertain, but I believed God would see me through it. I was excited to be alive!  I was saved, and I knew it!”

Cosar said those are not the only changes he felt. “I was deeply grateful to God for my new life, and I was determined to discover and to do what God wanted me to do as long as I lived.” He looked forward to Benny and Lefty visiting him.

“Lefty taught me how to read the Bible in a way that made sense to me,” he said. “He and Benny weren’t the only ones who helped me grow spiritually.” He said Jessie, a volunteer whose father had been murdered when he was 17, had a powerful impact on him.

“When my mother was in the hospital, Jessie knew I couldn’t go see her, so he visited her. He held her hand and told her I loved her and that he was there for me. And after my mom died, he went to her funeral.  Jessie is like a brother to me. I’d die for him in a minute.” But Cosar said ‘a compassionate and caring redhead’ who visited with her church group has been an even greater blessing to him.

“I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend and Justeen wasn’t looking for a boyfriend,” he points out, “but God knew Justeen and I needed each other. We fell in love, and married while I was still in prison.  No one has helped me keep growing like she has.”

Cosar said another miracle happened while he was in prison. “God miraculously delivered me from my addiction! I have been alcohol and drug free for more than thirty years,” he said. Cosar worked in the chaplain’s office, and his faithfulness earned him greater and greater trust and responsibilities. He was part of a program that allowed him to go outside the prison and talk to youth groups about the destructive consequences of drugs and alcohol.

“I told the kids that I didn’t wake up that morning in 1986, and say to myself, ‘I am going to get drunk tonight and kill somebody.’ That wasn’t my intention, but that’s what I did under the influence of alcohol and drugs.  I didn’t think about the consequences when I started drinking and using. Don’t make the same mistake I made!”

He said for 20 years he spent countless hours with Benny and Lefty and other Christians. “Their vision helped me believe God had a mission for me,” he said. They helped me believe that even if I stayed in prison the rest of my life, I could help other people experience God’s love. They encourage me to hope that someday I might be pardoned and have even greater opportunities to share God’s love.”

That’s what happened. After Cosar had been incarcerated for nearly 25 years, the Oklahoma State Board of Prisons and Parole recommended that he be released.  Acting on their recommendation, Governor Brad Henry commuted Cosar’s sentence and signed his parole on Nov. 17, 2010.

On that day, Justeen welcomed Cosar into her home in Oklahoma City, and their marriage progressed to an even deeper level. They are active in their church, they team-teach marriage enrichment classes, and they go together to prisons, churches and other places where Cosar shares his story of God’s redemptive love.

Two weeks after Cosar was released, he joined the staff of The Education and Employment Ministry, a nonprofit in Oklahoma City that The United Methodist Church started half a century ago to give people “a hand-up instead of a hand-out.” Today, TEEM seeks to “break cycles of incarceration and poverty in Oklahoma through, education, character development and work readiness training.” TEEM primarily serves prisoners who will be released within three months.

TEEM’s executive director, Kris Steele, said TEEM had high expectations of Cosar when he joined the staff and he has surpassed them all. “Cosar genuinely cares for our students—that’s what matters most,” Steele said. He’s walked in their shoes, knows what they are going through in prison, and knows what they will go through when they are released. He inspires them to want to be their best. And he holds them accountable to be their best.”

Cosar said he knows now why Benny and Lefty put up with him even when he abused them. “They loved me,” he said. And he said he also knows now what enabled them to love him.

“God’s love was flowing through them,” he said. “That’s what enabled them to be love me when I was so unlovable.”

He said his prayer is that God will use him to teach the same way God used Benny and Lefty. “I believe God has placed a gift inside my students and everyone else, and I pray that God’s love will flow though me so that those whose lives I touch will experience God’s love and share it with others. Nothing would mean more to me than that.”

Boyce A. Bowdon, who was a United Methodist pastor for 20 years and director of communication for the Oklahoma Annual Conference for 24 years, now writes inspirational articles and books from his home near Oklahoma City. 

 

Comments

  1. Harold Montgomery says

    Boyce I appreciate your insightful article about a man’s life so damaged by addiction related behavior and his redemption. I worked in the addiction field for most of my ministry. It was so rewarding to witness recovery and entrance into usefulness. There are no hopeless people; only people who khave lost hope.

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