Second chances: ‘True freedom was realized’

Morgan Gobely has been sober for the past four and a half years and works as a peer recovery support specialist for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

Morgan Gobely
Morgan Gobely, right, poses with wife, Laura Hietala, and kids Owen and Elise.

BRAINERD — The odds were stacked against Morgan Gobely from Day 1, but he can finally say he’s beaten them on more than one level.

“Both my parents were heavy in addiction, and my father spent a majority of my childhood in and out of prison,” Gobely said during a Zoom interview Wednesday, April 26.

He and his brother were essentially left to raise themselves and got into quite a bit of trouble at a young age, adapting to the party atmosphere of their addiction-filled neighborhood in the metro area.

“We just thought that’s how everybody lived, but we didn’t really know that that’s not necessarily the case,” he said.

Drugs, alcohol and partying figured prominently into Gobely’s teenage years, and at 18, he found himself facing prison time for firearms and theft charges.


“It was at that point that I really had an opportunity, or I guess just had the awareness, to look at my life and say, ‘How did I get here?’” he said.

That’s when he started to question the existence of God.

“So I would say I came to faith in Jesus Christ in 2004 in a jail cell,” Gobely said.

Reading the Bible helped him make more sense of life, leading to treatment at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, graduating from the program in 2006.

He then started striving for an ultra-successful life, feeling like he needed to succeed in a career in order to be useful in his newfound faith and in the recovery community.

Gobely poured all his energy into the trades, working in the concrete and masonry fields and doing well for himself. Eventually, though, he found himself putting more effort into his job than into his faith and his recovery.

When 2010 rolled around, and the country’s recession was in full swing, Gobely started his own business with a partner, introducing even more stress and responsibility into his life. A subsequent divorce and exit of his wife and young daughter further exacerbated things.

But a stroke of good fortune hit when he met Laura Hietala.


The two eventually married, though Gobely was dealing with a herniated disc resulting from a back injury. Reluctant at first to take any drugs at all — even Tylenol or Advil — the pain worsened, and he ran into someone dealing prescription pills.

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It was Gobely’s first experience with opiates.

“It took the physical pain away, but it also took away some of the emotional pain that had been buried,” he said.

Then started the double life.

From the outside, Gobely was a successful businessman, husband and active member of his church community in the south metro.

“From all outward appearances, everything was good,” he said. “... But on the inside, I was already starting to crumble because I’m hiding this use from everybody in my life.”

That course of events continued for a couple years, and the addiction progressed to heroin. “Business meetings” served as a cover for buying drugs, creating the perfect storm of events to hide the use from his loved ones.

But around 2015, the double life started to take its toll — physically, mentally and emotionally. Gobely was just going through the motions in everyday life without really being present, including in the life of his son.


Short-term treatment proved ineffectual, so Gobely left his business and took his family up to Brainerd — near Heitala’s hometown of Little Falls — to get away from everything and get a new start.

In 2016, Gobely found himself back in jail.

“It was at that point that Laura — just with all the chaos that I drug her through — just said, ‘Enough is enough. I love you, but I can’t continue to do this,’” he said.

The couple divorced that year but maintained contact for the sake of their son. Never losing their feelings for one another, they began to reconcile in 2018, even through Gobely’s brief relapse that year.

“I just really felt in my heart that if I didn’t do something significant to change my life and really, really make an effort, I wasn’t gonna live long,” he said.

A trip to Adult and Teen Challenge in Brainerd proved to be just the ticket.

“It was at that point that the Lord really began to reveal to me some of the significant things that have been holding me back from just wholeheartedly serving the Lord,” he said. “And it was really during that year in Teen Challenge — 2018-2019 — that true freedom was realized.”

Gobely had known back in 2004 he was meant to devote his life to serving others, but it wasn’t until after his final treatment that he began pursuing that vocation.


He now works as a peer recovery support specialist for Teen Challenge and boasts a biblical studies degree from Oak Hills Christian College with a GPA above 3.9 — a proud feat for a high school dropout who earned his GED in prison.

Gobely and Hietala remarried in 2020 and have since welcomed a daughter.

They’ve thought about global ministry but aren’t quite sure what the future holds for them yet.

But Gobely does know he’s thankful for the unique recovery community in the Brainerd lakes area. Falling back into addiction was easy in the Twin Cities, but the community here is different, he said.

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“Especially with Teen Challenge and the other recovery groups that are kind of associated there, it’s very intentional with the relationships, and it goes deeper than just the surface to really be a benefit and an encouragement in faith and recovery,” he said.

Through his work, Gobely finds himself interacting with people from all different backgrounds, including those incarcerated in the Crow Wing County Jail, which he sees as a blessing.

“I think the more governments or community organizations are able to step out and partner with those who are in recovery and are really living a lifestyle of recovery, I think that’s going to build trust and better relationships within probation, community corrections, treatment facilities, counseling facilities and stuff like that,” he said.

Now with about four and a half years of sobriety under his belt, Gobely wants others going through the same challenges to not be afraid of accepting help.


“Often we’re like, ‘Oh, I got this. I can figure it out,’” he said. “People that have lived in addiction have tried 1,000 ways to change, doing it our own way. But really just surrendering and listening to the advice of others that have been successful in recovery and being willing to actually implement their advice, I think that’s huge.”

April is Second Chance Month

April is known as Second Chance Month , both locally, in Minnesota and nationally, reaffirming the importance of helping those with criminal backgrounds re-enter society and have a second chance at a better life after paying their debts.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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