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Kenai man finds way with help of religion

Posted: May 15, 2012 - 8:53am
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James (Steve) Triplett, pictured in the apartment he shares with his fiancee in Kenai, reflects on how his faith in God has helped him stay out of prison.  M. Scott Moon
M. Scott Moon
James (Steve) Triplett, pictured in the apartment he shares with his fiancee in Kenai, reflects on how his faith in God has helped him stay out of prison.

It's like refining gold.

"The more you put it through the fire, the shinier and shinier it gets," said James Triplett, an ex-prison inmate and newly dedicated Christian. "I looked at it as character building."

The 50-year-old Kenai resident was referring to the time he spent enrolled in a faith-based class at Wildwood Correctional Center. Establishing a relationship with Jesus changed his life for the better, he said.

The evangelicalism 101 course, as prison chaplain Dave Arested calls it, is related to the Alpha Program. Wildwood's Alpha re-entry program recently celebrated its one-year anniversary and offers participants more than guidance on scriptures. It offers life skill courses.

Triplett graduated from the fledgling program in November 2008. He said he believes the insights he gained from the class were far more helpful than any substance abuse treatment program. Alpha officials rely on a variety of offerings to rehabilitate their students, but Triplett believes religion solely changed him as a person.

Alpha USA describes this course as a holistic introduction to Christian faith.

Participants at Wildwood, who remained in the general inmate population, gathered for 12 weeks to watch a series of eight videos. Each video instructed the inmates through Bible readings.

There were five basic rules for the course, like no interrupting and no name-calling -- basic guidelines to keep it civil. Through discussion with volunteers and each other, prisoners contemplate what it means to have faith in their lives.

The 1-year-old Alpha re-entry program has incorporated the simple gospel course. The 101-course still is offered twice yearly, depending upon volunteers. The 18 inmates chosen for the more intensive re-entry program tackle deeper issues: criminal behavior, anger management and life skills.

"Our life skills courses include a finance class and a public speaking class," Arested said. "We're trying to get them ready for when they enter back into society."

Sitting in his Old Town Kenai apartment, Triplett chronicled his past and path toward a better living.

He said he took a chance and joined the program. After the first class, he had found what he was looking for.

"I didn't want a bunch of legalism and rules, you know, that basically just end being broken (in prison) anyway," Triplett said. "I wanted a God, to say I have God and that's where it started."

The former inmate does the occasional odd job -- washing windows with a friend or volunteering his time at local events -- but his mobility is limited as an Army veteran who wears braces on both legs. He joined the infantry at 17 and served for about six years.

Faith entered Triplett's life during this time in the Army. He joined a church along with other soldiers from his company.

He said he was misguided. After returning from construction work in the Bush, he felt distant.

"I felt ostracized from the church for a time," he said.

"But I always felt there was a God."

All of Triplett's offenses are alcohol related. He relied on substances to deal with problems, he said.

Enrolling in the course gave Triplett a deeper understanding of the Bible, as well as camaraderie with fellow inmates. Once everyone was comfortable, they sat with each other in the lunch hall and talked about how messed up things had been before they entered prison, he said.

"We didn't talk about our offenses as much, but we did talk about what our lives were like without Jesus in it," Triplett said.

About three months after completing the course, Triplett was released from Wildwood. It wasn't long, however, before he was back inside. He violated the terms of his probation by drinking. He said it wasn't prolonged use. Rather, he drank, he got caught and he went back to jail.

"I relied on substances instead of relying on God, and I went right back in," he said.

Not practicing what he had learned from the course was his mistake, he said.

"This time, I made a promise to myself, my wife, and I definitely made a promise to God that I was going to stick to it," Triplett said.

"He's my personal preacher," responded Kristi Brown, Triplett's wife of one year and companion of five years.

During a mid-April visit to the Kenai Peninsula, Jack Cowley, National Director of the Christian-based Alpha USA program, said he believes the re-entry program offers a full, cognitive approach to reform.

"Life skills, coping with problems ... these are the things we teach," he said. "Just finding Jesus in and of themselves doesn't work."

The next step involves community involvement. Housing is needed, and business owners can hire ex-offenders, Cowley added.

Chaplain Arested agreed with this assessment. The basic course doesn't take the place of recovery, as it's up to each individual to commit to good for their community, he said.

"The 12-week class is to show the inmates practical evangelism," he said. "It's a basic question of life that a lot of people have. People have the responsibility to change themselves.

"But, we see guys really commit their lives to the Lord."

Shunning other avenues of aid isn't common practice for Triplett. He also attends a combination of mental health and substance abuse counseling at the local veteran's center.

He will be "program complete" in June -- free from substance abuse for about two years -- and faith has made it an easier road to travel, he said.

"The day I got arrested for my second, felony DUI, my mother had a massive stroke, and the only way I knew how to take care of it was to drink or to use drugs," he said in between sips of coffee. "Now, I've been alcohol and drug free for almost two years, and that's by the grace of God."

The more intensive, Alpha re-entry program that includes the course Triplett took had 12 graduates following its initial year. Two of those grads have re-committed offenses and are back in the system.

Arested said this is a good track record, a much lower recidivism rate than those who don't enroll. The community has backed the idea too, he said. The program will continue into the foreseeable future.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at

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northernlights 05/15/12 - 03:51 pm
I appreciate your story

Life isnt easy, we live in a fallen dark world. As a beleiver, we are lights, it takes committment and courage to stand on Gods Word. To love others after you have been stollen from, deceived and lied to. Any person can live negatively and complain, but to look to God to teach you about you, your weaknesses and how to get stronger and more honest, isnt easy, but its the best. A man becomes a real man and the same with a woman when they turn to God. Im not talking about religion, quoting scriptures means nothing. Learning to love the un-lovable isnt easy either, but we can do it, and forgiving, wow, it takes courage for that to. Might not forget, but we can forgive. For you to be forgiving of yourself is awesome. You have alot to give and teach others. Keep standing, one person makes a huge difference in this world.

aspiecelia 05/15/12 - 05:45 pm
Where is the DOC programs

Why should people have to be indoctrinated to get rehabilitation help? Religion will not keep people clean and sober, their own spirituality will. This is so sad. What about those who are not Christians, where can they get help? Why doesn't the help come before people get to the point of being incarcerated? Why are only those considered to be in the in-group helped? What a sick, sick state this is. Allowing outside groups access to inmates who have chemical dependency issues and mental health issues as far as I am concerned is a violation of their rights. They are vulnerable.

jamestriplett 05/15/12 - 09:33 pm
repl to "Wheres DOC"

You don't have to be "indoctrinated" or a christian to understand that it is a choice one has to make to stay clean and sober. A thousand secular or christian programs won"t help if the choices one makes to continue in a destructive lifestyle. Jesus helps me get through the tough times which makes the smooth time bareable,because truthfully there are no real "smooth" times theres always tiny cracks you don't see before a hole opens up and you fall in. Make the choice.....the good or bad will follow

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 05/16/12 - 08:43 am
Grace or Wrath your choice

John 3:16 shows that God so loved the world that he gave his only son to die for and pay the penalty for our sin nature. It's Gods Grace to EVERYONE not special groups, EVERYONE has the right to accept or reject this demonstration of Gods love for his creation that has no hope of getting better in our present sinful state.
We that have accepted this Grace of God and forgiveness thru Chrict Jesus' blood attonement are forgiven & given a new life with Hope & Change To Believe In that can be attained. Our Fundamental Hope & Change is placed in Christ alone not other people. Our President ran on this promise of a New Hope & Fundamental Change To Believe In, but it has nothing to do with reality or Christ, it has to do with belief in mankind and most of all in Obama's Dream Act.
People, mankind has tried to control each other since the Fall in the Garden of Eden when sin began it's reign of terror on all humans. Mankind will never be able to deliver us from this sinful morass we are bogged down in, but people keep looking to a savior like Obama when the true savior has already come, Christ Jesus is his name.
If we reject Gods Grace & forgiveness mentioned in John 3:16 then there is only one other choice for us & God for doing so and thats John 3:36 which shows that if we don't have the son then we have the wrath of God on us & that intails paying for our own sinful nature with our own life.
Those of us that have believed in Yeshua are saved from the wrath to come, we're not perfect and still mess up daily, but Gods word says that if we confess our sins then God is faithful & just to forgive us of all unrightiousness.
It's ALL about Gods plans, not OUR plans and history shows that Gods plans are always fulfilled while ours are usually not.
It's OUR FREE choice to make, some will say yes to Gods Grace like James, Northernlights and my self, others will say no and suffer the Wrath of God for their Free choices.

It's a Union Thing with two choices to decide on of which to join and ones not Good. One will provide everything needed for eternity even health care, one will not. But it's everyones free will to chose & decide which way they will vote with their Single vote for eternity even if you don't believe it. Romans 1;

Revelation 13:16-17

aspiecelia 05/16/12 - 04:10 pm
To Jamestriplett

The point is the DOC has very little offer in the form of rehabilitation. If an inmate wants help they have little choice but the religious programs. People who are addicted can't make right choices, that is the reason they need help. That is why it is such a shame that when people are incarcerated they are not given treatment immediately even if they are only sentenced to a few weeks. You have the right to choose your own beliefs and others should also have that right. The DOC discharges people onto the streets to homelessness with little or no money. They provide very little transitional housing. Then people with felonies are barred from public housing for a period of two years, which they can appeal, but they try to keep that a secret. They are barred from certain types of work and most employers will not hire them. Then on top of it they may be bullied by probation officers who believe it is their job to get as many people as possible re-incarcerated. They end up using substances again because they are trying to kill the emotional pain and then get arrested once again. The DOC treats people in a way that causes permanent emotional damage and people are rendered unable to function in society. This is not a system that intends to rehabilitate inmates in any way. This is a system that intends to increase the prison population.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 05/16/12 - 09:38 pm
Full prisons makes many money

aspiecelia i agree with that part of full prisons for profit and many supposed legal service employees are as crooked as the day is long. Remember the Judge that was caught sending kids up for the slighest violations and being paid cash for their convictions? This is an every day event nation wide and alaska is not exempt from it i fear.
I still say that faith is the only thing that many people look to when they are seeking help, some look to men, some look to false gods, some look to Christ Jesus.
Satan hates every single one of us humans and uses every trick he knows to discourage us & keep us down, when we look to and focus on this world we can fail and i do daily. But when i look to Christ i never fail, but when i take my sight off of Christ i begin to sink due to attacks from many enemies and allow them to control my attitude & opinion of self & Gods love for me and ALL that would say yes to his way.

Even those that say they have no god or religion in fact actually all have some sort of false god that controls their lives and they dedicate most of their time in service to those false gods resulting in a never ending search for true value or acceptance in self because God loves them and they refuse to accept it on simple faith with no works needed other than to submit to God in prayer for every thing daily even if we don't get what we think we need.
The victory can be won by James and others, will it be eazy? Probably not, but possible with faith in God, not in mankind or self.

Psalm 14:1

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