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“Drugs used to do for me what a phone booth did for Superman,” says Gary Lee Ernst, singer and guitarist for Christian rockers In the Midst 777.

“I was in and out of jail about a dozen times for meth-ing around, until I was sentenced to a three-year prison sentence and sent off to Donovan prison.”

It was there the former Helix High stoner says he had his religious conversion. During a lengthy stint at a Vista rehab center where he took part in the Casa Bible study program, Ernst says, “I started sponsoring some of the men in the program. That’s where I met our drummer Anthony Valenzuela. The second person I sponsored also graduated and is now our lead guitarist, Greg Kappes.”

Three years later, along with guitarist Lyonel Padilla and bassist Bill Brubaker, the band has played over a hundred gigs.

Valenzuela says that his drug addiction started in high school. “After that, it was all downhill, without a clue. After countless times in and out of jail, and then prison, something needed to change. For me, the only thing good that came out of prison is that I got baptized.”

Kappes, whose convictions involved meth and probation violations, says, “In 1999 I was sent to Chuckawalla Valley State Prison for several years…I was released, but my issues with addiction were never properly addressed. I ended up back in prison in 2006.”

After meeting Ernst and deciding to form the band, Kappes says, “There were a lot of obstacles in the early going. As residents, we weren’t allowed to have instruments at the program.”

In the Midst 777 appears Friday, April 9, at Boomers in Vista.


Ernst: “A burned CD I made on my computer with P.O.D., Kutless, Third Day, Shinedown, and 3 Doors Down.”

Valenzuela: “I like classic rock, like Rush…my biggest influence is Neil Peart.”

Brubaker: “ ‘Every Time I Breathe,’ by Big Daddy Weave. The first time I heard this song I was in the car, and I couldn’t wait to get home to call the radio station and find out the name of the song and the artist.”

Kappes: “The Death Magnetic album by Metallica. Their chord-pattern style really opens things up for the lead guitar.”

Padilla: “Iron Maiden’s No Prayer for the Dying CD has been in my car forever.”


Ernst: “Maybe Jim Carrey. Or Adam Sandler.”

Valenzuela: “Steven Seagal, because we both have a chip on our shoulder.”

Brubaker: “I’ve been told I look like Nick Nolte, back in his good days, so I guess he’d get the job.”

Kappes: “Well, George Clooney, of course.”

Padilla: “Owen Wilson.”


Ernst: “In prison, you were lucky to get paid sometimes only eight cents an hour. I worked in the poultry abattoir — I believe that’s French for slaughterhouse — and it was so freaking nasty that it took me three or four years to ever eat chicken again.”

Kappes: “In high school I had the unfortunate pleasure of digging ditches for a mobile-home park one summer.”


Ernst: “Problem child and class clown.”

Valenzuela: “Always tapping on something to keep a beat.”


Ernst: “Isaiah 38:20: ‘The Lord was ready to save me. Therefore we will sing my songs with stringed instruments, all the days of our life, in the house of the Lord.’ ”

Kappes: “Matthew 7:7: ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.’ ”

Padilla: “Matthew 7:1: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.’ ”


Valenzuela: “I’m a self-taught drummer…so, fear of failure.”

Brubaker: “My greatest fear by far is suffocation. In the back of my mind, I just know I’ll die from suffocation. Okay, this is getting pretty dark.”

Padilla: “You’ll never catch me hanging out under a ladder.”


Valenzuela: “I’m part Native American, and my spirit helper is the hawk — so, to fly.”

Kappes: “I would like the power to know ‘What would Jesus do?’ in all daily circumstances.”


Ernst: “convictedthruchrist.com.”

Brubaker: “craigslist.org. Because I’m always looking for that good deal.”

Padilla: “newegg.com. Because I like to build computers and hear about related stuff, along with reviews.”


Valenzuela: “I like to minister to people I hardly know.”

Padilla: “I go commando.”

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PalmdaleMom April 14, 2010 @ 8:23 a.m.

From the musicians comments we can see that the prison system failed them: "My issues with addiction were never properly addressed. I ended up back in prison in 2006.” and "After countless times in and out of jail, and then prison, something needed to change. For me, the only thing good that came out of prison is that I got baptized.”

Their time in the Vista rehab center seems to be what saved them and what is saving us $50,000 each year for each ex-offender it keeps from returning to prison.

How about using some common sense? Let's measure results from the rehab, drug, and education programs and throw out those that are just making money for the programs and keep those that work. We can save salvageable lives, save us a bundle of tax payer dollars, and prevent new crime and new victims.


Jay Allen Sanford April 14, 2010 @ 9:03 a.m.

PalmdaleMom = my new hero!! Quite right -- the key to rehabilitation isn't the key you throw away after locking 'em up.


Fred Williams April 14, 2010 @ 12:07 p.m.

I wonder what would happen if instead of providing inmates exercise equipment, they were given musical instruments instead...

Just a thought...


ExElan3 April 14, 2010 @ 4:35 p.m.

I've had the opportunity to meet these guy personally. Not only do they ROCK! they walk the walk & talk the talk. Very inspiring and funny. I wouldn't want to be "Steven Segal" though. Jim Carrey's better..lol. Keep it up guys.


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