Aaron Cosar served more than two decades in the Oklahoma prison system for a murder he committed before the age of 20. Today, he is a father, a grandfather, and is helping to start Prison Fellowship®'s first Academy™ in Oklahoma.
Prison Fellowship: How would you describe the first part of your life?
Aaron Cosar: I started drinking alcohol at age nine. I had great parents but my uncle was an alcoholic, so I adopted his personality and behavior. This escalated at the age of 15 to other forms of drugs, then dealing drugs. I got into trouble with law enforcement—stealing, breaking into houses, getting DUIs, getting into severe fights. I then ran away from home and committed a crime of murder at the age of 19, which consequently gave me a life sentence (which was later commuted by the governor).
For the first several years in prison, I adapted the prison mentality: fighting, home brew, shanks, bad attitude. Then, I had an encounter with God through some volunteers. I got involved with Bible studies and seminars, and God just began to change my life through that process. I started working in the chapel as a clerk and worked there for 15 years.
You mention integrity. What did it look like to walk with integrity in a prison environment?
I have two boys. At the time, they were probably six and seven. They asked me when I was coming home. I lied to them. I said I was trying to come home and was staying out of trouble, [when] I was actually getting into fights. That’s when God began to build my heart, " Wait a minute, you're lying to your two boys here." God used that as a tool to teach me how not only not to lie to my children but also to others.
From there, I began being responsible to my family and in my role at the chapel. There was a time when I was given a pretty unprecedented level of responsibility in that chapel program for a little under two years. I was being trusted with a lot … Then it really made an impression [on me] that I had changed. … It felt good that I had not been lying or doing something illegal. … It became a really important part of my life and I still try to practice that today.
A lot of times, with our history and background, we do things because we want somebody to watch us, like we could get approval from the parole board. But that wasn't even on my radar. It was at least 8 years before that would even pop up.
Now that you've been out for a while, what does your life look like?
I've been out for seven years, married to the same woman for 19. Between us we have nine grandkids. All of us are close.
After I got home, I went to work as a life skills coach for homeless people and those getting out of work release. Then I became an OSHA instructor, then a forklift trainer. I also went and got my volunteer badge to volunteer with the Department of Corrections.
I was just hired as the program manager for the new Prison Fellowship Academy opening in Oklahoma at the Lexington Assessment & Reception Center.
What's an Academy?
It's a year-long intense program where prisoners develop themselves personally and collectively. Participants will get a sense of what integrity looks like, what it means to be accountable to themselves and their peers and their community, and what it looks like to be productive both on the inside and on the streets. For those who will be released, they will gain some life skills, character transformation, and tools to be better citizens, to be somebody’s next-door neighbor, somebody's future employee, somebody's future husband, brother, etc.
To be a little less serious for a moment, do you have any pets?
We have a one-eyed Chihuahua named Samson, and he acts like [the Bible character] Samson.
You spent a lot of your life stuck in one place. What's one place you would visit in the world that you haven't yet?
Alaska. I love the notion of being completely in the woods with bears, and deer, and elk, and the smell of fresh, clean air.
Photography by J. Pat Carter
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