Prisoners put welding skills to work on gifts for local kids
by Denise Ellen Rizzo
Sep 20, 2013 | 4258 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Prison inmates refurbish bicycles
Deuel Vocational Institution prisoners, shown Sept. 12, have refurbished bicycles that will be given to needy children by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tracy.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Several inmates serving life sentences at Deuel Vocational Institution spoke about the satisfaction of providing refurbished bicycles for local children as they showed off their handiwork on Sept. 12.

“It feels good to give back instead of taking,” one inmate, Jose Rodriguez, said. “I did it to put a smile on a kid’s face.”

Through a joint effort of Tracy Police Department, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tracy and DVI, abandoned and unclaimed bicycles collected by police are delivered to the prison. Inmates in the welding program clean and repair them to be given as holiday gifts to children chosen by the Boys & Girls Clubs.

The program was initiated by police Chief Gary Hampton in 2012, but budget cuts meant police officials could not pay for parts to fix the donated bicycles. To fill in the gap, Tracy Police Officers Association recently donated $250 for repairs.

“I think it’s a win-win-win,” Hampton said. “We’re creating a program where a person serving a sentence can give back to the community and police officers can provide monetary support. At the end of it all, we have the youth who benefits from a bicycle that may otherwise not have one.”

Before receiving the money from the patrolmen’s association, inmates started repairing bicycles donated in August by cannibalizing a batch of bikes donated the year before, according to Tim Valouch, DVI maintenance mechanic.

“We got about 12 bikes in really good shape, in different sizes, and the inmates took care of it all,” he said. “We got as many as we could (finished) for what we had (in parts). Hopefully, we’ll keep this going year to year.”

Lt. Arnel Bona, DVI spokesman, said the inmates participating in the program, approximately a dozen, were excited to be involved. All are serving life sentences and are in the prison welding program.

The repaired bicycles will be matched to local children by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tracy. Executive Director Kelly Wilson said she will coordinate the holiday giveaway with her site directors.

“This is our first year doing the bike program with DVI,” she said. “There are so many kids in need. Some families don’t have a car, and for a kid to have a bike is a rite of passage.”

A sampling of repaired bicycles was unveiled Sept. 12 during the monthly meeting of the DVI Citizens’ Advisory Committee, a group of appointed community officials who meet monthly to discuss activities at the rural Tracy prison.

“It’s great,” said John Thoming, committee chairman, as he looked on. “It’s a good program, and good for these guys (inmates) to learn a trade and keep busy and out of trouble.”

• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or

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