- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Kelvin Lee is a certified drug counselor, a Baptist deacon and the director of the JP Jones Community Development Center in Alaska. In the past two years, Lee’s nonprofit organization No Limits Inc. has opened two affordable housing facilities in Fairbanks, including one geared specifically toward people recently released from jail.

Lee is also a former inmate who spent much of his childhood addicted to crack cocaine and going in and out of various Alaska jails.

Lee has been out of jail for about 14 years. His goal with his Southside Reentry Center, which he opened in 2014, is to get people through their first six months out of jail, a time period when people are most likely to get re-arrested.

If tenants have questions for him, Lee is easy to find. He lives in an apartment in the reentry center, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (https://bit.ly/2taQ3pT ).

Lee, 52, grew up in Northern California and Anchorage. Lee’s mother moved to Anchorage in 1977 to work on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, bringing Lee and his two brothers.

“Alaska was a nice place to grow up,” he said. “I could easily have said, ‘Oh, the reason my life went the way it did when I was 18, 20 was because of the way I was raised,’ but no.

“(My mom) raised three boys by herself. She taught us how to cook. She taught us how to take care of ourselves.”

Lee was 20 when he first used crack cocaine. He was in Las Vegas and found himself in a dangerous world of competing gangs that were selling the drug and killing rivals. He lived in Las Vegas for three years and spent his final days there hiding in his house and waiting for someone to send him a plane ticket back to Alaska.

“I was blessed to not get found in the desert,” he said. “Right around then was when the crack was just taking off. A lot of my friends just didn’t make it.”

Lee said he was often homeless when he wasn’t in jail on various theft of drugs charges. Lee had two children while he was going in and out of jail. Both are adults now, and Lee regrets not being involved in their childhoods. Today, Lee and his wife have two young daughters who he is helping to raise.

Lee was arrested in 2001 and charged with first-degree robbery. He had met a man at a hotel to get high and stole the man’s watch to retaliate for the man stealing his crack pipe, Lee said.

Given Lee’s history, the crime had a possible sentence of 40 years in jail. A plea agreement to a single drugs-related felony gave him a much-reduced sentence. It was his last time in jail as an inmate.

“I went to jail in 2001, got out in 2003 and never looked back,” he said. “Even though I didn’t have all the things in place (to live outside of jail), I never looked back.”

Lee’s past experience also gives urgency to his job of finding homes for people who are getting out of jail. Lee moved from Anchorage to Fairbanks in 2014, and he opened the Southside Reentry Center. This year, his nonprofit group opened Prosperity House, an affordable housing unit for the homeless.

“I didn’t have any grant money when I started the Prosperity House,” he said. “I had a few dollars, but I said this project is going to self-fund itself until the help comes. I didn’t wait for perfect circumstances, I made that project happen.”

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