Okay, I’m going to be frank: this isn’t your typical cycling article. When invited to Paremoremo Auckland Prison, I was a little nervous and uncertain of the angle. Turns out there’s a rehabilitation project at Paremoremo Auckland Prison, where the inmates are transforming not only bikes but themselves.
Bikes are collected from inorganics, tips and donations, and prisoners work in the prison bike repair workshop, learning the fundamentals of bike restoration as well as workplace social skills and behaviours. Participants learn generic work skills—such as reporting on time, following instructions and working in an ordered manner—as well as engineering and mechanical skills. Once the bikes have been restored, they are then given back to a needy community. Research shows a strong link between employment and reduced reoffending, with an up to 35 percent drop in recidivism when offenders have a structured work and/or study environment to support them.
Several emails and forms were filled out before we could even get access to the prison yard. This is a high security prison after all. Once there, we passed several checkpoints and were guided to the area where the prisoners restore bikes. This location is beyond the main prison area (known as “outside the wire”) and doubles as the prison’s recycling plant. A few more checks from the staunch Department of Corrections staff and we were inside the compound.
A few eyebrow lifts were exchanged as we entered the small yard. All of a sudden, my initial fears subsided. The prisoners seemed stoked that we wanted to come into their environment. Some of the restored bikes were lined up in the yard and I could feel a sense of pride from the inmates. Most of them contin- ued to work away as we were greeted by David Grear, rehabilitation and learning principal advisor. We were all brewed a cuppa as we sat down for a yarn. The of-fice environment is nothing spectacular,but that’s to be expected in a prison. For David, the main goal is getting ex-cons back into full-time employment or education upon release.
David introduces me to an inmate I’ll call “Billy” (not his real name) before he starts talking. David is careful to state that Billy has done the mahi (work), he’s a leader, and David’s been really impressed by how articulate he is. That’s some good feed- back! This is nice to see and hear, as it’s not what we tend to get ambushed with on mainstream news channels, most of which shine a negative light on the relationshipbetween inmates and corrections staff. Youcan certainly see why Billy’s the front man for this project. He’s been in this outside the wire programme for 18 months and, being a mechanic by trade, he was head- hunted to come across to the unit. (There’s some awkward laughter when the word “headhunted” is used). Billy enjoys train- ing people as he always had apprenticeswith his previous businesses. You can seehe likes to teach and to give back. Billy also likes to see the photos of the kids that re- ceive the bikes, because, he says, “I feel like I’m helping give back to the community.”
The inmates within the programme have few tools to work with; most are generic tools and, as you can imagine, there’s not a ton of budget to work with. Forget your typical bike workshop, these special tools are not seen within sheds. Not even a wheel truing stand. So, they have to im- provise with what they have. Most of the parts, such as chains, spokes and wheelshave to be fixed or reused. Prisoners haveto be innovative. Billy ensures all bikes arerefurbished from top to bottom and beforethey leave the yard he gives the bikes a full quality control check. He rides the bikes around a small loop inside the yard for the quality check. I joke about whether there are ever races around the loop, and there are not. Billy would like to ride a lit-tle further, but he’s confined to the smallyard inside the fence. Nevertheless, he ensures all bikes meet a high standard be- cause he doesn’t want any bike coming back on his watch.Billy says a lot of the prisoners on the yard ask about how they can get into this outside the wire programme as it’s seen as quite a privilege.
Words/Images: Liam Friary & Cameron Mackenzie
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