Rick Prather started smoking marijuana when he was 10.

Three years later, he started smoking cigarettes. Then it turned toward chemicals.

“Everything but heroin,” he said. “I did the pills, PCP, cocaine, crack, three different forms of acid.”

He also started sneaking drinks of alcohol.

Story continues below gallery

It wasn’t a way to escape, Prather said. It was more about peer pressure, wanting to belong and wanting to fit in.

“A lot of people say addiction is a disease. … Ninety percent of the time, I believe it’s a choice,” the 53-year-old said. “Back when I was growing up, the only thing was really marijuana and alcohol. Then it started to get progressively worse as society continued to fall further away from the Word of God.”

Prather said heroin was off limits because everyone knew it was bad, but everything else was a go, including opiates and PCP.

PCP, also known as angel dust, was a horse tranquilizer and is similar to carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer now used to cut heroin.

“It was scary stuff,” Prather said of PCP.

He said back in those days, drug use was a little more hidden than it is now, but now, the opioid epidemic is often front-page news.

“… and I see it getting stronger,” Prather said.

Two dates will forever be ingrained in Prather’s mind because they were turning points in his life.

On Aug. 12, 1999, shortly after being booked into prison, he visited with a minister and said he felt the Lord speak to his heart. Since that time, he has avoided drugs and alcohol.

On Dec. 11, 2017, in Jackson Circuit Court in Brownstown, Judge Richard Poynter determined his conviction, arrest and case history could be sealed from the general public.

Prather said it took nearly seven minutes for his records to be read — including disorderly conduct when he was 14, burglary and theft at 15, public intoxication, driving while intoxicated, driving while suspended, possession of marijuana, dealing in marijuana … the list goes on.

“I hung my head. I started crying,” he said of when his record was read. “As he kept going, I go, ‘When is this going to stop?’ My heart was just like, ‘Oh Lord, look what I’ve done to my life.'”

Walking into the courtroom wasn’t easy. The last time he did that, he was facing 27 years in prison — three years apiece for nine felonies. That got knocked down to a three-year sentence with two suspended, so he only spent a year in prison.

This time, though, he could prove he was a productive citizen to society. He had been in ministry for 12 years and become a pastor of his own church, hadn’t used drugs and alcohol in 18 years and hadn’t gotten arrested or gone to jail.

When he realized his past couldn’t be held against him, he said he cried.

“The Lord said, ‘I’ve forgiven you.’ He said, ‘Now, you’ve found favor in man’s eyes, that they’ll wipe this away, too,'” he said. “I lifted my head up, looked at Judge Poynter and made eye contact. It was like there was a moment there. It was like, ‘It’s over.’

“That’s a part of the Word of God,” he said. “It says, ‘You’ve found favor in my eyes. You also find favor in man’s eyes.’ It’s a message of hope out there for folks: Turn to the Lord, and he’ll provide for you.”

This was an example of Indiana’s process where convictions can be sealed from the general public; however, Poynter said the case file and convictions still exist, and they still are available to law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. There also is a process to have the case file and convictions unsealed under some circumstances.

As long as the petitioner seeking to have his or her criminal convictions sealed meets the criteria as set forth in Indiana Code, Poynter said the court has no problem with complying with the law.

“Any time I see a person turn their life around and leave the world of substance abuse, crime and hopelessness, it gives me great pleasure to see that person succeed,” Poynter said.

“I have been involved in the criminal justice system for over 18 years. Seeing people destroy their lives, careers, families, friendships, future, etc. is something I hate to see,” he said. “We humans have but one life to live, and to waste that life trapped in the world of drug addiction is a waste of that life.”

The night he returned home from his court appearance, Prather shared the good news with his wife, Amber, 62. She got into drugs and alcohol when she was 26 but later was called to God at the same time as her husband and hasn’t used ever since.

“I was just so proud of him being able to get that done. It was exciting, really,” Amber said.

In the last several years, Poynter said he has had multiple cases filed each week in Jackson Circuit Court involving opiate-related crimes.

For the first time, in 2017, he said more than 700 felony cases were filed in his court with well more than 90 percent of them being drug-related.

“Drug addiction in general is a sad world,” Poynter said. “Seeing people who are 30 years old but look like they are 50 years old with no money, no job, no home, no savings, etc. is just incredibly depressing.”

In the last five or six years, he said more people have become addicted to opiates like hydrocodone, oxycodone and heroin.

“The opiate addiction problem is far worse than any other addiction problem I have seen in my career,” said Poynter, who has been a prosecutor for 13 years in Florida and Indiana and a judge for more than five years.

“The psychological hold an opiate gets on a person requires a completely different substance abuse treatment program,” he said. “I know of people being clean of opiates for over two years who go back to using. Seeing a person being brought back to life multiple times and still unable to beat their addiction has an enormous impact on crime, families, society, hospitals, jails, etc.”

Rick Prather said he went to jail for the first time when he was 14. The judge gave him the option of going to a group home or the Indiana Boys School in Plainfield. He chose the latter and remained there a couple of years until his mother signed him up for the U.S. Army.

After serving for six years, he said he returned to Seymour and “made a mess of my life.” He held down a variety of jobs — fast food, bartending, construction, laying concrete — but not for long.

In 1985, while he was a bartender, he met Amber, who at the time was a waitress at a bar.

They started doing drugs and drinking together. Amber said she didn’t smoke or drink a lot until she got a divorce from her first husband.

“That’s when I started doing the marijuana and the acid and drinking pretty heavy,” she said. “Then it just progressed from there.”

Amber also struggled to hold down a job.

“For me, stability is what I was looking for, but after partying all night and trying to keep a job, it was hard,” she said.

They moved to Florida in hopes of getting away from drugs and alcohol, but that didn’t work.

Back in Seymour, they got into methamphetamine, acid and prescription pills.

“We basically lived from paycheck to paycheck and then still owed a man for what we wanted to use to party, plus what we had to sell,” Amber said. “We were Mr. and Mrs. Disconnect — rubber checks all over town, family didn’t want to have anything to do with us, we had drive-by shootings at our house. It was awful.”

They dealt drugs to put food on their table, Amber said.

“We were a total, total mess,” she said.

By the time Rick was 30, he had been arrested nearly 30 times. Most of the charges were alcohol-related, he said.

“I kept getting in trouble and just running around with blinders on and dragging her with me,” Rick said.

Amber was arrested only twice. Both times, authorities busted the doors down at their home, arrested them on drug charges and took them to jail.

The first time, Amber was in jail for about 12 hours and then was on home detention for 30 days. The second time, she didn’t receive any jail time and had her charges dropped because Rick agreed to do prison time.

Rick said he was asked to be a confidential informant, but since he was raised on “you do the crime, you do the time,” he chose prison.

While at the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown waiting to be transported to prison, Jeff Ellis with Gideons International was there to minister.

Rick chose to listen, and Ellis prayed with him and gave him a Bible.

“I fell asleep reading the Word, and that’s when the Lord spoke to me,” Rick said.

He later learned God spoke to Amber that day, too.

“It was awesome because I didn’t know this God speaks to women,” Rick said. “When she came to the jail to see me, I told her what happened, what (God) spoke. She said, ‘I know. He spoke to me, too, and told me we’re going to preach.’ I went, ‘He speaks to you, too?'”

Amber said she believes God was preparing both of them to serve.

“He had a calling for both of us at that time,” she said. “He brought us together at the same time to him because we as a team have to minister to those that need it.”

Nine days later, Rick was shipped to Pike County in preparation of being transported to Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Linton.

Meanwhile, Amber started doing prison ministry. A few months after Rick got out of prison in 2000, they began doing the ministry together.

In 2004, they took a break when Rick became an associate pastor at a church in Acme.

On Jan. 1, 2006, the Prathers started a church in their Seymour home with six members.

Six months later, they moved into a building at 206 S. Chestnut St. in downtown Seymour. That year, they also began doing juvenile detention ministry and later got back into prison ministry.

In the seventh year at their downtown church, attendance reached 50, and they realized they needed more space.

Rick came across a church building at 1005 S. Poplar St., and the owner accepted his offer to buy it in March 2013. About a month ago, they had nearly 100 people at church.

Rick said some people who come to Christ Covenant Church walked away from drug or alcohol addictions.

“I tell folks, ‘When you’re tired of being tired, come and call out to the Lord, Jesus Christ, from your heart, and he will save you, deliver you and set you free,'” Rick said.

The Prathers want to spread a message of hope, that if they can overcome their addictions, others can, too. But people have to want it, and it’s important to look to God, Rick said.

“What he has done for us, he’ll do for you, but you’ve got to come to him,” Rick said. “You can’t hide anything from him because if you hide something from him, then you come on false pretenses. … Through the Word of God, the power of his holy spirit, it can happen, but you’ve got to come to him.”

Amber said once they gave their hearts to God, drugs and alcohol faded from their thoughts.

“It was immediate for me, and it was immediate for him, as well, because it was then that we knew that we were healed,” she said. “We did not have any relapses. None. No jitters or anything like that. … We praise the Lord for that.”

When Rick got out of prison, he said some people who knew his past thought he would relapse.

“There were people betting on me, ‘Oh, he’ll be back in six months. He’ll be selling that dope.’ Six months passed, ‘Oh, give him a year. He’ll be back,'” he said. “It has been 18 years, there are still some betting, but I tell them, ‘You all will win the lottery quicker than betting on me.’ I said, ‘I’m telling you, I’m in it to win it.'”

The Prathers make the most of their opportunity to minister to others and help them turn their lives around, too.

“The people that are being transformed and have come from that lifestyle, it’s not because of me or her. It’s because of what the Lord’s holy spirit is doing in them through us,” Rick said.

“You’ve got to make the choice to do right,” Amber said. “Doing bad, that’s easy. That’s almost normal. But to do good, it’s hard to stay good. But it’s not as hard if you have Jesus Christ on your side. The hope is in Jesus Christ, and we are good examples of that — born again, truly walking in what his Word says. That’s how we keep where we’re at because we have hope.”

On the Web

To see an interview with Rick and Amber Prather done by The Christian Broadcasting Network, visit www1.cbn.com/content/rick-prather-setting-captives-free.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.