Pilot program allows some prison inmates to attend church service in Eagle River

 Hiland Mountain inmates attend Easter church service at Eagle River High School.
Hiland Mountain inmates attend Easter church service at Eagle River High School. (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 16, 2017 at 2:08 PM AKDT
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On Sunday, Ashley Larsen and six other inmates of Hiland Mountain Correctional Center attended an ACF Easter church service at Eagle River High School.

Larsen has been incarcerated for the past 38 months for forgery and theft and will be released in about 6 months.

"I'm looking forward to starting over...fresh and being able to do it correct this time and not returning," Larsen said.

Larsen has been in jail for most of her 9 year old son's life.

When she leaves, Larsen said she plans to reconnect with him.

"I wanna be able to do sober activities and be there for him for the rest of his life and be an inspirational speaker to kids so they don't do the same...or live the lifestyle that I lived," Larsen said.

To help inmates like Larsen transition out of prison and back into the Anchorage community successfully and not recidivate, the Department of Corrections is beginning a pilot program that focuses on building connections.

Commissioner Dean Williams of the department said it's an effort to prepare inmates for re-entry into their communities as they near the end of their sentences.

"I want people to move close to our facility and help us out and so we're opening doors in very smart, sensible ways in how we do that," Williams said. "Once we start this other program, then people in the community can help them look for jobs, get them you know advance things in terms of places to live."

To help with the process, DOC has partnered with ACF Church to start with 7 inmates.

Stuart Poteet, a Discipleship Pastor said families within the church that have been vetted by the DOC will pick the inmates up from Hiland and bring them to church before bringing them back.

"One of the issues, I think, is when the ladies are in Hiland, when they get out they have the same relationships they had when they went in and this allows them to develop a different community for support when they get back out," Poteet said.

Poteet said he'd like to see other churches get involved as the program develops.

"The goal of the program really is to help them develop roots in the community that will last after they transition back into Eagle River or Anchorage areas," Poteet said.

The pilot program won't officially launch for another couple of months, according to Poteet.

"I think it's good that there's people willing to help us transition out so we don't end up getting shocked when we're released and end up right back in jail," Larsen said.

While she's nervous, Larsen said she's taking advantage of resources she has at Hiland to prepare her for returning to a life with her son.

"I wanna be there for him and speak because I've been through a lot and maybe save kids from doing the same life style I'm doing," Larsen said. "If I can help one person, that's all that matters."