ORIENT, OH (WCMH) — A dozen teenage offenders spent the morning at the Orient Correctional Center building bicycles for teens they hope to influence.
The normal daily sounds of prison life were temporarily replaced by boxes being ripped open and bicycles coming together.
This idea came from the Kate Koch, commonly referred to as “The Bike Lady.” She and a group of volunteers organize the monthly bike-building event by matching offenders who have shown they want to change with children in need or in foster care.
The offenders, many locked up as 15 or 16-year-olds and convicted as adults, put together 20 donated bicycles for foster children at Franklin County Children Services. Inside each handlebar basket is a letter from the offenders, one sentence said, “foster care is really difficult, but prison is much worse.”
“When we get to write letters to kids that are unfortunate and let them know that there really is somebody out there that really does care for them that means a lot to us,” said Michael Watkins Jr. He just turned 18 in August and said he too was convicted at age 16 in Cincinnati.
NBC4 spoke with two teen offenders, both who said they did bad things that got them locked up and are now making choices to do something good.
“Makes me feel like I am changing actually, like I am making a difference,” Xayvion Bridges said. He was convicted of crimes in Sandusky.
The bike lady said 36 percent of teens who emancipate out of foster care at age 18 are incarcerated within the first year or two. She said teen to teen communication has a bigger impact than adults with foster children.
She said letters from these teen-offenders have salient messages. “Stay in school, stay off drugs and don’t join a gang, and go and have hope that a good life is down the road for you and don’t come here.”
“To know now that I’m making a difference in somebody’s life, that is all that matters to me,” Watkins said.
Bridges said the work is as beneficial for them as the foster youths.
“You got to let this be a wakeup call, let this be a new beginning,” said Bridges.
The Bike Lady said the goal is to build 1,700 bicycles across 43 counties for kids in foster care before Christmas.
Since 2008 Bike Lady Inc. has raised nearly $700,000 and provided 8,177 bikes, not including those donated in 2017. The organization is a nonprofit, staffed 100 percent by volunteers.
Bike helmets and locks were also given along with each donated bike.