By Lt. Steve Zanini, Administrative Assistant/PIO
As the officer in charge of recycling at Folsom State Prison (FSP), Jeff Rumsey is accustomed to salvaging something useful out of the things other people throw away. This year, that included salvaging Christmas dreams for 51 young children in El Dorado County.
Each child received a shiny, like-new bicycle, refurbished by inmates.
Begun in 1986, Folsom Prison’s bicycle donations have become a holiday tradition, although bikes are donated at other times of the year as well.
The program is a true partnership with the community, involving the Cameron Park Rotary Club, students from Ponderosa High School, the Golden Spoke Bike Shop in Placerville, Jerry’s Paint and Supply in Folsom and the prison’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee.
These organizations contribute the paint, parts and tools that inmates use to rebuild donated bicycles.
“Some begin as rusted relics, and some are in good shape,” said Rumsey.
Those beyond repair are stripped of any useable parts and added to the prison’s metal recycling program.
“Each bike takes between two and six hours of inmate labor to restore them to like-new condition,” said Rumsey, who oversees the inmates who work in the bicycle shop, an assignment for which there are always many applications. The two inmates assigned to the shop work seven hours a day, five days a week.
“They love it because they get to do something constructive for the kids,” said Rumsey. “When I interview, I look for the right combination of skill and attitude, but I hire on attitude because the skills can be taught.”
On a frosty morning in mid-December, volunteers arrived in a fleet of trucks to pick up the bicycles. The 51 bikes, in a variety of sizes and colors, were parked – kickstand-by-kickstand – in front of Folsom’s historic East Gate.
That afternoon, the last school day before the holidays, they were delivered to low-income kids at Camino Elementary School in Camino and Sierra Elementary School in Placerville. The Parent Teacher Association at each school donated bicycle helmets.
It is always an exciting time for the kids who receive the bikes and a heartwarming experience for many of the people behind the scenes who support the program.
“We’ve had high school kids and Rotarians crying during the giveaways,” said Joe Ryan of the Cameron Park Rotary.
Over the last 25 years, Folsom Prison has refurbished more than 8,000 bikes. Rumsey noted that the prison accepts donations year-round, which can be dropped off at any time, every day of the year, at the Entrance Gate to the prison.