The ingredients for success and happiness were
all there: at least that is what the parents thought. On the surface they seemed to
represent the typical American family pursuing the typical American dream; a home in the
suburbs, the father providing for his family, and a bright child who was expected to
continue the tradition of hard work and achievement. How could something that seemed so
right go so wrong?
Before an audience of 50 men gathered for the monthly prayer
breakfast at The Gospel House in Walton Hills, the Reverend Gary Koly answered that
question and went to describe the radical transformation he experienced when he gave his
life to Jesus Christ.
"Time is what you have in prison", Koly said, "a lot of time. I had time
to think about my life and the crazy twist and turns I took. Looking back I could see how
the early choices I made led me to the cell that was to be my home for over
Koly described his childhood and how his parents worked to raise him with a sense of
values and morals even though they themselves were not involved in a church. The memories
of his childhood still bear the scars of his schoolmates ridicule and torment over
his size. As he puts it, "I was a fat kid when I was young. I was pushed around and
joked about." What worked against him as a child, however, would later be his ally,
as he grew older.
At six foot tall and two hundred plus pounds, it didnt take long for his high
school coaches to notice his size and strength. Since he had long since turned the tables
on those who had taunted him as a child and dished out some very physical pay
back, his violent spirit was now being directed against his opponents on the field.
The years of rejection by his childhood peers were now replaced by adulation and
acceptance by his coaches and teammates. I wanted to be accepted, Koly said, "I
did whatever people pumped me up for."
As do many teenagers, Gary chose the path of rebellion from family and authority and
now, with his new sense of power and importance, he began to lash out and live the life he
saw fit. This life included playing guitar in a band and hanging out with a rougher crowd.
"At first I was scared", he said, "but like all sin, I hardened myself to
it and soon, it didnt bother me at all." The progression of vices, the
progression of sin began to take him deeper and deeper into a life of alcohol, glue
sniffing, drugs, and crime. Soon, crimes of vandalism escalated into crimes of stealing
and along with that lifestyle came all the accessories: police problems, arrests, courts,
One night, in a rage that consumed him and everyone around him, Gary Koly ended a
mans life in a bar fight. At age 18 he was arrested and charged with second-degree
murder. Later, in a plea bargain with the courts, that charge was dropped to first degree
manslaughter but was compounded with additional time for an earlier armed robbery
conviction. Broken, busted, yet still rebellious, there, at age 18, stood a young man
facing 2 to 45 years in the Ohio State Reformatory.
With all the authority of one who has been there and done that, Koly described his
prison life as a continuance of his earlier life on the streets, nothing changed: bad
crowd, drugs, and violence. One would think that 5 years behind bars would begin to bring
about a change, a correction in a persons life, but according to Gary, "I got
Upon his release from prison 5 years later Koly hooked up with his old
"friends" on the outside and took up right where they had left off. The only
change now was that they were all packing pistols. Enmeshed in a wild lifestyle, he ran
and hung with wild people, crazy people as Gary puts it. It was in that early
1970s that he met his wife, Nina. As their drug-inspired lives continued to spiral
downward Gary was again arrested and did time for assault and battery. This time, however,
his source of drugs from the outside was his wife, Nina. When he got out this time some
things were different, one of his old friends had been shot dead. This, along with
increasing pressure from his wifes family, who blamed him for the corruption of
their daughter, led to the only thing that made sense at the time RUN!
For those who have ever taken a "geographic cure", the sad reality is clear:
it is not the place that must change, it is the person. Two years later, both returned
from Florida and as Gary puts it, "they were busted, disgusted, and couldnt be
trusted." It has been said that insanity is to continue to act the same way expecting
different results. It was only a matter of time therefore until his reckless insanity
again landed him in prison, this time; however, the Lord had different plans for inmate
Entering No. 2 dorm at Marion Correctional Institution, even he was struck by pervasive
gloom and sense of doom. As he headed towards his bunk he noticed a man standing there, a
strange man, strange because he was smiling and seemed to have a sense of peace about him.
This peace, as "the smiling guy" said time, and time, and time again was a gift
from God ever since he had given his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Morning, noon, and
night the smiling guy would witness about forgiveness, heaven, and Jesus. Surely the guy
had to be crazy, flipped out for sure. As soon as possible Koly arranged a transfer to a
"biker" dorm where he could again find comfort using and abusing the drugs that
had become his god. At last he had rid himself of that crazy "Jesus guy" and
could now settle back, do his time, do his drugs, and wait for release. Piece of
nothing to it
except, of course, for that dirty needle infected with
Being sick is bad. Being sick in prison where no one cares whether you live or die is
considerably worse. As he watched his skin turn as orange as his morning juice, inmate
Koly was scared, scared enough to read a Bible someone had left in the room. "I
really began to read it. I found out that it was an easy story about a man who was healing
people physically and spiritually. He was offering eternal life!" It was there in
that prison infirmary room that Gary Koly had been caught again, this time by the
Fisher of Men.
As he puts it, "I didnt know any fancy prayers: I just said, "Lord,
Im tired of sittin in these penitentiaries. Im tired of breakin my
parents hearts. I want a new life!" A simple prayer from a sincere heart and in
that one instant, the fate and future of Gary Koly was forever changed. "Ive
never been the same since", Koly attests. "I stayed up for 3 days and 3 nights
confessing my sins and talking to the Lord. I seemed to get lighter, my hepatitis was
cured. I had been smoking 2 to 3 packs of camels a day, had a shelf full of porn, and had
stashed away enough drugs to keep me going. After Jesus changed my heart, I didnt
want those things anymore."
As anyone who has walked with the Savior can attest to, life isnt always rosy
just because we have chosen to follow Jesus. Well after his conversion, this new man in
Christ went before the parole board only to be handed two additional years to serve. To
their astonishment this "freed"-by-the-Lord, jailed-by-the-State man shook the
parole board members hands and returned to his cell knowing that the Lord was in
control and directing his life.
Gary used that time to pray and fast and to read the Bible and grow in the Lord. To his
own amazement Gary had become a "smiling guy" who witnessed as the Spirit led
him; as he says, "If you know the gospel, youve got to share the gospel".
One of those he witnessed to was his wife, Nina, who not only heard a different man but
saw one as well. That day, on her way home from the prison, God touched her and held wide
his arms as He welcomed her into the family of life and the body of Christ.
There are messages we hear from people who guess at what things must have been like and
there are messages we hear from people who have been there. As he spoke to the men that
morning it was clear he spoke with the authority of one who had experienced prison,
parole, and now, pardon by the Master Himself. Toward the end of his testimony he reached
for his 12-string guitar and sang about change, the change that only Jesus could
accomplish in a human heart. The change the psalmist sang of so long ago when he wrote in
Psalm 40, verses 1 through 3, "I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and
heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet
on a rock and gave me a new place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of
praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord."
Today finds Gary Koly still behind bars but now he is there as the director of the
Gospel House Prison Ministry team coming and going with a freedom he never thought
possible. And what about the other areas of his life? When you ask him about the changes
in his life his eyes light up and his smile tracks from ear to ear as he recounts what the
Lord had done in his life and the life of his wife, Nina, and their children Josiah Ivan
and Katrina Joy.
Just as God had a plan for Gary, He has a plan for you and I, and as the Lord has
proven in the life of the former convict, real change, life saving change is possible. In
Garys own words, "Jesus changed my life. He can do the same for YOU! He can do
an inside job. It takes a real man to serve Jesus Christ. One day, every one
of us is going to stand in front of God. He is only going to ask me one question,
"What did you do with My Son, Jesus Christ, whom I allowed to die on the cross for