Tracy Kovach grew up in a dysfunctional home in Buena Park, California, where drunkenness and physical abuse ran rampant. His parents divorced when he was 5, and Kovach watched as a parade of boyfriends repeatedly beat his alcoholic mother.
Removal from the family didn’t help; Kovach says at age 7 a foster parent locked him in a storeroom and beat him. Kovach bounced back and forth between his parents and foster homes until age 14.
Unsurprisingly, Kovach spiraled downward into a life of drug addiction and violence. Initially he smoked marijuana, but later he began injecting methamphetamines, cocaine, and heroin. He faced numerous lockups as a juvenile, culminating in an arrest after he burglarized a police officer’s residence.
When his mother, still drinking and involved with a series of men, refused to take custody of him, Kovach remained in juvenile hall until turning 18. Consequently he poured out his wrath on virtually anyone. Without a godly upbringing, Kovach had no moral boundaries. He began robbing drug dealers and selling the wares to mothers on welfare.
“I beat people up when they looked at me wrong,” remembers Kovach, now 53. A court convicted him of assault and battery against police officers. Following an arrest for grand theft auto in 1987, the burly Kovach escaped from San Diego County Jail before recapture.
Looking for status in prison, he built his muscles by lifting weights. Kovach, who has tattoos covering both his arms, became a white supremacy gang leader. He had white power, swastika, and Schutzstaffel tattoos engraved on his body.
“I knew there was more to life, but I didn’t know what exactly,” Kovach recalls. “I was just lost and broken.”
Kovach moved to Arizona from California in an effort to elude law enforcement. But in 2007, sheriff’s deputies drove an armored vehicle into his East Mesa, Arizona, house, looking for a meth lab and chop shop.
Again reincarcerated, Kovach instigated fear in others who lived in his cell unit. Inmates called him “the Regulator” because of his drug trading and extortion efforts.
But then, in maximum security, a fellow inmate invited him to a chapel service. Kovach went and surrendered his life to God. He started attending Bible studies and prayer meetings.
“God built my faith and showed me who He was,” says Kovach, who read Scripture voraciously. “God was trying to get the racism out of me.”
Kovach became a pod pastor as well as a prison yard praise and worship leader. Although sentenced to 35 years, he only had to serve a total of two years.
In all, Kovach had been incarcerated in 13 California and Arizona facilities in a decade-long stretch for drug and theft charges.
Upon release after converting to Christ, Kovach didn’t want to return to his old haunts. God opened a path for him to enter the Greater Phoenix Teen Challenge men’s center in 2009. Teen Challenge is a department of U.S. Missions.
“At Teen Challenge, God introduced me to the body of Christ,” Kovach says. “He was getting things out of me.” After graduating from the program in 2010, Kovach served on staff at the Tucson Teen Challenge men’s center. He later became a fundraiser for the ministry.
At a Teen Challenge banquet, Kovach met a woman named Deborah, whose father, Robert Stewart, had started Arizona Teen Challenge in 1965. Tracy and Deborah have been married nine years.
For the past six years, Kovach has been ministering as a Teen Challenge volunteer in Maricopa County jails. He also is president of a Christian motorcycle club called The Deacons. He makes a living as a Community Bridges behavioral health case manager, working with substance abusers. Deborah also works in behavioral health, for RI International, after years of drug addiction.
“God has opened so many doors in my life,” says Kovach, who stresses the importance of Christian discipleship for inmates following release. His transformation includes forgiving his parents after he became a Christian.
“My rage against the world was actually against them,” he says.
Kovach led his mother, Renee Anderson, to the Lord in 2013. Anderson, who died last year, told her son she felt bad for what had happened to him. They had been separated for 35 years.
He saw his father, William Kovach, for the first time in 40 years in 2017. Before his father died last year, he told Kovach he loved him and was proud of him, words he never uttered before.
Kovach has been clean and sober for 12 years.
“Tracy has an amazing story of redemption, transformation, and healing,” says Jim D. Moyer, director of the Teen Challenge Phoenix men’s center the past 15 years. “As a result, he has a fire that burns inside of him to serve the Lord Jesus and to see others set free and delivered.”
Moyer says Kovach’s testimony of being shot, stabbed, imprisoned, in gangs, selling drugs, and fighting to the death is evidence that no one is beyond the Lord’s saving hand.
“I’m glad he’s for us and not against us,” says Moyer, 59. “His getting radically saved with Jesus is an inspiration to all our students.”
Photo: Tracy Kovach reconciled with his mother, Renee Anderson, before her death.
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