Ripped jeans. Long hair. Earrings. As a teenager growing up in Iowa in the 1980s, Rodney Pieres had the appearance of an aspiring rock star, but he did not want to just look the part–he wanted to be a rock star.
“For whatever reason, I just had a natural inclination,” Rodney recalls. “Every time I'd pick an instrument up, I could figure it out by ear.”
Rodney’s guitar-playing uncle introduced him to the hard rock sounds of bands like Led Zeppelin and KISS, and by the age of 6, Rodney knew that he wanted to be a musician. Starting when he was a sophomore in high school, Rodney played in a few bands, and his interest in music soon became an obsession. But beneath his obsession with music was a darker fixation with drugs and alcohol that soon overshadowed his musical ambitions.
When asked about his childhood, Rodney likes to say he grew up in “a good, broken place.”
After his parents divorced when he was a small child, Rodney split his time between their homes. During the week, he stayed with his mother and stepfather, who tried to raise Rodney in a godly environment. On the weekends, however, Rodney would enter the dangerous world of his wealthy, reckless, drug-dealing father.
“At 12 years old, I was allowed, at my dad's house, to drink,” Rodney says. “I was allowed to smoke pot. I wasn't allowed to do cocaine, but I stole it from him and did it anyway because he did it, and he was my hero.”
During his adolescence, Rodney’s life was divided between these two worlds. By the time he reached high school, Rodney had developed an addiction to alcohol and drugs. His grades dropped, and his interest in football and wrestling faded. It was around this time that Rodney began playing in rock bands, because performing music was more compatible with heavy drug use than sports. He also rebelled against all authority figures in his life.
“My mom, God bless her, tried really hard, but I was just wild,” Rodney remembers. “I was a wild kid that just didn't care. I would just do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. If they grounded me, I'd sneak out. If they took the car, I'd steal the keys.”
At the age of 18, Rodney got into a fight and punched his opponent so hard that the man’s spleen was ruptured. The incident resulted in a felony assault charge and a year in prison. After being released, Rodney moved to Arizona, where his father was living, and jumped right back into his old lifestyle.
“I was taking steroids and cocaine and drinking,” Rodney says. “All I wanted to do was play music and lift weights.”
Rodney needed work and became an electrician. However, even while working, he continued to drink and do drugs. He got married in 1997 and eventually became a father to two daughters, but the bondage of addiction prevented Rodney from settling into normal family life.
“I would do crack cocaine, and I would disappear for three or four weeks,” he recalls, adding that he had “many, many overdoses.”
Rodney’s substance abuse led to multiple car crashes and near-death experiences, including a three-day, drug-induced coma. However, despite these brushes with death, and dozens of stays at rehab and detox centers, Rodney continued to relapse.
Over time, Rodney developed a heroin addiction and began turning to crime to fund his drug habit.
“I was defrauding companies, doing identity theft and all that,” he says. In 2009 he was sent to prison for 10 years.
'I didn't change. [God] changed me—the way I acted, the way I held myself.'
THE SOUND OF REDEMPTION
Being incarcerated deprived Rodney of the things that mattered most to him, including playing music.
“It was horrible,” he says of the first half of his prison sentence. “I had all this music running through my head, and I couldn't get it out. I had no outlet for it.”
After four frustrating years in prison, Rodney had a life-changing encounter in the summer of 2013. While walking on the prison yard track one day, he heard the sound of music coming from a nearby building.
“I got interested, and I walked in,” he remembers. “It was a prison worship band that was playing, and I sat down, and I just listened.”
Rodney was overcome with emotion while listening. Members of the band approached him and prayed with him, introducing him to faith in Christ. Over the next year, Rodney got sober, joined a Bible study, and started playing in the worship band.
“From that point on, I followed the Lord,” Rodney says. “I didn't change. He changed me—the way I acted, the way I held myself. I was able to have peace in a place that usually doesn't have a lot of peace.”
Along with his desire to follow Christ came a desire to serve those around him. Rodney enthusiastically took up opportunities to minister to his fellow prisoners, leading Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, serving as a peer educator, and signing up parents for Angel Tree® Christmas.
“I ended up just wanting to help people instead of just [taking], like I'd done my whole life,” he says.
During this time, Rodney’s two daughters began to visit him in prison, and he was able to reestablish a relationship with them.
“After we got comfortable and knew a lot about each other, we started playing games and having a lot of fun and laughing,” he says.
'I ended up just wanting to help people instead of just [taking], like I'd done my whole life.'
COMING FULL CIRCLE
Rodney also served as an assistant to the prison chaplain, a role that allowed him to help facilitate Prison Fellowship® Hope Events, evangelistic gatherings on the prison yard that introduce prisoners to the hope of Jesus Christ through inspirational speakers, musicians, and other attractions.
At one of these events, Rodney was impressed by a group of rappers sharing testimonies about their criminal backgrounds and the redemption they had found in Christ. The experience inspired him to consider how God could use his life story and musical gifts to minister in a similar way.
Rodney was released from incarceration in 2018. A year later, he began to perform at Hope Events in prisons across the country, singing hard rock songs infused with his story of redemption through Christ. Between running a thriving electrical contracting business and an anti-trafficking nonprofit that he founded with his wife, Rodney is a busy man, but he always makes time to minister to people who are incarcerated.
“I [once] thought being a rock star, touring and being idolized by people, would fill a void inside me,” he says. “Today, I realize that God gave me the gift…to bring my voice and my words to the hurting, lost, and broken. That is my dream today.”
'I realize that God gave me the gift … to bring my voice and my words to the hurting, lost, and broken.'