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Prisoner Bike Repair Program Benefits St. Louis Kids

A recent joint project of the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois and St. Louis BicycleWORKS is helping to provide bikes to St. Louis-area children. Under the program, prisoners at USP Marion are refurbishing old bicycles and donating them to children who might not otherwise have a ride. The U.S. Probation Office had asked the prison to take part in the program, and according to Jeff Baney, a spokesman for USP Marion, prisoners responded enthusiastically.

“I just think they enjoy knowing, despite being in jail, they’re still able to do something to help out children who may not otherwise have an opportunity to own a bike. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and instills some self-worth. These inmates are not being paid for their work, they’re doing it strictly voluntarily. They just enjoy really any type of community service they can do,” he stated.

Patrick Van Der Tuin, director of operations for St. Louis BicycleWORKS, said the nonprofit organization started in 1988 as an opportunity for youth in St. Louis to be productive and increase their probability of positive life outcomes. He added that such goals are accomplished by providing children with incentives to develop their academic, vocational and social skills through the organization’s Earn-A-Bike Program. As of January 2011 approximately 490 bicycles had been refurbished at USP Marion, not only for BicycleWORKS but also for a nearby Boys and Girls Club.

Prisoners are provided with truckloads of bikes and the training needed to properly refurbish them. One of the prisoners working in the project said, “It gives the inmates the opportunity to give back to the community. I feel like when we’re in here we’re paying back the government for what we did without really being able to give back to our communities, and this is a good program to do that....”


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