Group based in Sterling looking to help ex-cons

Posted: Thursday, October 07, 2004

Bid on an autographed baseball or watercolor and keep an ex-con from returning to prison.

That's the hope of an auction of sports memorabilia, original art and a wide variety of other donated items to be held Friday night at the Sheraton in Anchorage.

The auction -- called "A Night to Remember" and scheduled to be attended by several former professional athletes -- is being held to raise money to build a transitional living facility for men who are released from prison and have nowhere to live.

Mercy Love Servants, the Sterling-based outreach arm of Ministry of the Living Stones, or MLS, and its partners, Anchorage-based Alaska Correctional Ministries and Artists Against Hunger, are behind the event. The groups are concerned that little is being done to help individuals make the transition to the outside world once they are released from prison.

"It came to our attention the felons who were leaving the prison were pretty much given bus tokens and told to stay out of trouble," said Tina Wegener, an MLS administrator and an organizer of the event.

Without assistance or resources, many inmates fall into old habits, reoffend and find themselves back in jail. The problem is of particular concern in Alaska.

"Statistically, per capita, Alaska has the highest rate of recidivism in the nation," said Wegener. "We want to bring that percentage down."

To help address the problem, MLS volunteers have been working with inmates enrolled in a pilot program at the state prison in Palmer.

The program, sponsored by Alaska Correctional Ministries, uses prayer and personal counseling to help the 35 men enrolled in the program.

Volunteers act as mentors who support the inmates while in prison, and have agreed to continue the relationship upon release, said Wegener, who compares the program to Alcoholics Anonymous.

The transitional living facility MLS and its partners hope to build in Palmer would give newly released inmates a place to live where they would be supported by others in the program and not be forced to make it on their own, she said.

Events begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the ballroom of the Sheraton with a $100 per plate, five-course dinner that includes free gifts and a raffle for door prizes, including a 1979 MG Midget, 65-inch high definition television and a king salmon fishing trip for four.

Bob Radovich and Nick Willhite, who both played major league baseball with the L.A. Dodgers, and Burrell Jordan, who played in the National Football League for the Atlanta Falcons and now is a drug and alcohol consultant with the Denver Broncos, are expected to attend.

The auction begins at 7:30 p.m. and includes autographed memorabilia from a wide range of sports, works by local and international artists, furniture, custom gift baskets and gift certificates for hotel stays, dinners, kayak trips and scenic boat tours. Entry to the auction is free.

For more information, call Tina Wegener at 252-8748.

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