Inmates assemble bikes for children
CALDWELL, Ohio — Behind the double-coiled barbed wire fence off a hill on McConnelsville Road, hands that were once used for harm were instead used for service Tuesday.
It was the second time residents of the Noble Correctional Institution had a hand in building bicycles for local children in foster care, assembling a little bit of Christmas cheer as the snow poured down.
“My past doesn’t reflect on a positive person so anything I can do to get some social redemption and show that I’m not a waste of space helps me to sleep better at night,” said inmate Jeremy, 34, (only a first name was provided when speaking to those incarcerated). “Honestly it’s a privilege to be in a place like this and serve. I hope that whoever gets these can get a small amount of the joy I got as a kid on a bike.”
In the prison’s gymnasium with wrenches and power tools, 113 bikes ranging from 12-inch wheel size to 26-inch wheels took shape in less than two hours from box to pumped tires.
The group working on the bikes were hand-picked by maintenance staff to be a part of the maintenance team. Joel Burris, correctional warden assistant, said the crew of 20 were low security risks and thus allowed to use power tools not only for the project but as a job while incarcerated.
“How can we expect human behavior out of people if they’re not given the opportunity to feel human and give back?” said Kate Koch, head of the nonprofit, Bike Lady, Inc. that offers the program. “And a bike truly changes the life of kids in foster care, many in kindred care with families that are trying to figure out how to convert the sunroom into a bedroom and have enough beds while living in poverty themselves. The last thing on their mind is purchasing a new bike for all seven grandkids that just got put into their home because dad’s in prison and mom is on the streets.”
Contrasting with the tan and blue uniforms of inmates, frames painted bright pink, neon green and blue, with bright white training wheels, sleek black Huffy logos and vibrant orange streaks filled the two lines in the center of the basketball court within minutes of unboxing.
“It’s pretty easy once you get into it to put them together,” said inmate Tim, 32, who has been behind bars for more than eight years. “A lot of people in here miss out on being able to teach their kid how to ride a bike. I got to with my son but there’s many in here who can’t. So it’s cool to help in a small way, especially when it’s not something I ever thought about on the streets-being nice.”
Inmate Christian, 33, who has been incarcerated for the last seven years, said the task brought a little sense of peace.
“And it’s for kids, it’s that simple,” he said. “At least now we’re doing some good together.”
Inmates Craig, 35, and Nathaniel, 41, noted the camaraderie they shared with the select maintenance allowed to take part in the project and said it was a welcome change from the upkeep of the facility.
“It feels good to do something for Christmas even if we can’t be there for our own kids,” said Nathaniel. “Plus it’s a blessing to stay productive this time of year.”
“We’re giving those kids a little hope,” added Craig. “If they have parents in here they can have hope we’re becoming better people. It almost makes you feel you’re on the outside.”
Though only 20 inmates assembled the Christmas presents, another 113 were allowed to partake in the service Tuesday.
“I got to be a part of the walk last year,” said Tim. “That’s what got me into doing this this year.”
It was a parade through the prison yard and around two bends to a warehouse where the bicycles will be stored until Thursday. That’s when response team members will deliver the presents to Children Services in Washington, Noble, Monroe, Morgan, Belmont, Muskingum and Guernsey counties.
“I wish we could do this everyday,” said Timothy Buchanan, warden of the facility. “Any project that we can physically bring into this institution to work on we’d love to do more of. We do displays for schools and churches and have worked on restoring vehicles… we’re open to more.”
And while for young foster children the Christmas present will stand out as a bright star on a difficult holiday to celebrate without parents, Koch said the gift could also serve as a bridge out of poverty for older children in care.
“For bigger kids, if you’re in the foster system you’re not allowed to get a driver’s license because you have no permanent address, and no insurance carrier will cover you,” said Koch. “This could provide them with the transportation not only to school but to join a sports team or get a job… it’s a small bridge out of poverty.”