California Medical Facility program pairs vocational training with charity
Photos, story by Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Video by David Novick, CDCR Television Specialist
Each year, hundreds of Solano County children in need are able to enjoy an experience they might otherwise not get – the feel of rubber hitting the road as they set out on their very own bicycle.
That experience is made possible by California Medical Facility (CMF), where inmates work each day to refurbish donated bikes. The Bike Project serves two purposes: to teach inmates skills that can be used in jobs after prison, and to provide an opportunity for inmates and the prison to give back to the community.
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“I know I’m doing something for somebody,” explained inmate Dale Alvarado as he replaced a chain on a bicycle. “I have it on my conscience that I did something to help kids. That’s something good.”
The bikes come from organizations throughout Solano and Sacramento, including Fairfield and Vacaville police departments, Travis Air Force Base, local schools and many nonprofits. Individuals donate bikes as well, dropping them off at the prison’s collection site near the main entrance and donation events held throughout the year. CMF also provides bicycles for local nonprofits to give away at fundraising events.
In 2014, the bike program gave 325 bikes to nonprofit and charitable causes, and this summer provided bicycles for the Vacaville Unified School District’s lunch program. The program provides free lunches during the summer months for children who also receive free lunch during the school year, and this year those students were also given a bicycle.
The inmates involved in The Bike Project shared that working on the bikes brings back memories of their youth, before they made the decisions that landed them in prison. Providing a child in need with a bicycle might just help keep him or her on the right path.
“For me, it’s giving back,” said Artis, who has been involved with the project for two years. “You’ve done some things to be in prison. This program touches me because I know that these bikes that are being requested are going mostly to kids. … Some of these families can’t afford a bike and have to make choices between food and bikes. So when we give them the bike, we know we’ve done a pretty good job.”
“I wake up every day and want to come to work,” said Craig, scheduled to parole this summer. “I was a kid at one time, and I needed a bike. I wish I could have had one donated to me. It brings joy to my heart to be able to build something, and put in so much work and effort, and know that you did it, and be able to pass it on to somebody who can enjoy it – you give a kid a bike at any age and they’re just ecstatic.”
The Bike Project inmates learn their skills from local volunteers, including Ray’s Cycle owner Mike Posey, whose family has been coming to the prison for years to share their skills with inmates in the program. Posey teaches the men about different styles of bikes, techniques for fixing them, which tools to use and how to make sure they’re safe and ready to be ridden.
He described the men in the program as hardworking and eager to learn, and said being involved with the Bike Project has been a positive experience for all involved.
“It’s going toward a good thing – actually, really good,” Posey said. “With all the bad things in life, this is a little bit of happiness. It goes a long way, and I see these guys are working hard and learning.”
“It’s a great bridge to the community to have help from the outside community come in and show the inmates that the community cares,” added Community Resource Manager Landon Bravo. “We’re here to help out, to get these guys free and rehabilitated back into society.”
CMF Warden Robert Fox said programs like The Bike Project provide a way for the institution to give back to the community, and for the inmates involved to learn new skills and spend their time in a positive way. Fox said his focus on rehabilitation is inspired by a saying that “today’s inmates are tomorrow’s neighbors.”
“I firmly believe that’s true,” Fox said. “It’s not the job of the prison system to just warehouse inmates who are incarcerates – it is to prepare them for release to society. Whatever programs we have or can create here at CMF go a long way to making a good neighbor.”