Latter-day Saint Life

While wrongly imprisoned for 537 days, this father had one scripture story permanently bookmarked

The Alkonis family after Ridge was released.
Courtesy of the family

On May 29, 2021, US Navy Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis took his family to hike a portion of Mount Fuji while they were stationed in Japan. On their drive home, they planned to stop at an ice cream shop Ridge had visited years earlier while serving in Japan as a missionary.

Ridge was in mid-conversation with his seven-year-old daughter when he suddenly lost consciousness. He consequently lost control of the car, resulting in the deaths of an 85-year-old Japanese woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law.

US Navy investigators said Ridge must have passed out due to altitude sickness, but a Japanese judge determined that Ridge had simply fallen asleep and sentenced him to three years in prison for negligence.

Ridge would end up spending 537 days in custody. And for those 537 days, his wife, Brittany, did everything in her power to bring him home while also caring for their three young children and maintaining a job. Brittany’s efforts paid off, and on Friday, January 12, 2024, Ridge and his family were finally reunited.

Ridge and Brittany were recently guests on the All In podcast with host Morgan Pearson. They spoke openly about how this experience affected the way they view the plan of salvation.

“A lot of people said to me throughout this process, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ or ‘You’re a current bush and God’s pruning you,’” Brittany says. “And the fact of the matter is, I don’t believe that. And not only that, I believe that statements like that are contrary to the gospel; they are contrary to the plan of salvation. The plan of happiness is all about … agency, so if everything happened for a reason, that means that God’s up there playing puppeteer, right?”

Rather than seeing God as a puppeteer, Brittany reached a different conclusion: “Sometimes things just happen. And some people might think that [is] disheartening to hear, but … for me, I feel like there’s less to be angry about when things just happen. There’s not always someone to blame—sometimes life’s just hard. I think that was a journey for both of us into that concept.”

Her husband Ridge completely agreed.

“That was my first big spiritual hurdle to jump over in the midst of all this process—to better understand why bad things happen to good people,” he says. “Testimony meetings became extremely difficult for me to go to, to the point where I almost gave up going. Because it was so hard to sit there and listen to the structure of, ‘I’m struggling with something or something bad happened. I prayed really hard, or maybe I fasted, and then something good happened.’ And here I am in the middle of not seeing that.”

Ridge reflected on how in addition to his own efforts to “access the powers of heaven,” thousands of people were praying and fasting for his release. And yet, for 537 days, he remained unjustly imprisoned. And for much of that time, he was only allowed to talk to people for an hour a day, Monday through Friday.

“I had to figure out a way to believe that God existed and that He still loves me while understanding the reality of my situation,” Ridge says. “We did a lot of pondering and reading and trying to come to grips with that.”

While in prison, Ridge chose to work in the prison’s tailor shop to occupy his time. He was determined to take advantage of the opportunity to develop a skill that would be useful outside of prison life.

“I really wanted something tangible. [I wanted] to walk away saying, ‘Look, this is what I learned. I am now better because I can do this. And you know what? I learned how to do it while I was in prison,’” Ridge says.

Ridge also read 192 books in prison, including studying the scriptures. He found strength and inspiration from people in scripture who went through difficult situations despite their righteousness.

“Nephi’s bow breaks, and they all start starving. Joseph gets thrown in prison for just trying to be nice to Potiphar and his wife. Paul ends up in jail countless times. I mean, we can go on and on,” he says. “There is no guarantee in the scriptures that says, ‘If you are really, really righteous, nothing bad is going to happen to you.’ And we don’t talk about that enough.”

Podcast host Morgan Pearson agreed. She added that years ago, she interviewed a professor at Duke Divinity School named Kate Bowler, who wrote a book called Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.

“I have thought about that so many times since then,” Morgan says. “I think things do just happen to us—and we choose to give them purpose. So, Ridge, you in the tailor shop, that was finding some little amount of purpose to give to the experience that you were having.

“I don’t know that everything happens for a reason, … but I think we can choose to give our experiences purpose.”

As the final question of the interview, Morgan asked both Ridge and Brittany what it means to them to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“While I was in prison, I had one of my bookmarks permanently on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who I think are the epitome of being all in the gospel. They stood looking into a fiery furnace of death, [then stared] straight at the king and said, ‘I believe that my Heavenly Father can save me from that fire. But even if He doesn’t, I’m willing to go down a believer.’ And that’s what it means to me. Even staring at the most daring, difficult situations, trials—whatever it is—you’re willing to do it with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ by your side, no matter what,” Ridge says.

Brittany added her own poignant words, emotion coming to her voice as she spoke of the fight to bring Ridge home.

“The kids and I were on a very different journey. Waking up every morning was survival; it was trying to ensure that every day my kids felt loved and they felt safe. … Every day was a fight. … And I’m just coming off of that, just having time to think and to try to understand everything we’ve been through.

“But despite all that, I’m still here. And so to me, that’s what being all in is. It’s not always understanding. The plan of happiness doesn’t mean you’re always happy, but I’m still here. I’m still waiting for understanding and I’m still praying for peace that I know one day will come.”

▶ You may also like: Delivered: This WWII prison camp survivor learned only Christ could set her free

Listen to the full episode on All In, available wherever you get your podcasts or in the player below.

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