Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

24 December 2016

An "Elf" Hopes To Open A Bike Shop

My cheapest trick for getting my students' attention is to intone, "I've been to Rikers".

I could write a whole post--or, if I were a sociologist or historian, a book--about the implications of that.  Suffice it to say, my students-- most of whom are members of groups that are considered "minorities" but won't be in 2042--react with varying degrees of disbelief or skepticism on hearing such a claim from a middle-aged white woman.


The truth is that I did indeed go to "the island" one morning and leave late that afternoon.  And, if I recall correctly, I ate take-out Chinese food that night.


No, I didn't go by bicycle.  That's not possible:  Once can get there only on a special bus or other authorized vehicle. (I tried cycling there once and was stopped.) If you're an employee, you can drive to the island--which is accessible only by one bridge--with your pass.


But I digress.  I went there to conduct a workshop back when I was working as a writer-in-residence in schools and community centers through the Teachers and Writers program. (The single most spiritually rewarding--and heartbreaking--experience of my working life was the time I spent working with kids in the school at St. Mary's Hospital for Children.)  On the bus from the island, I remember thinking, "How can that place reform or rehabilitate anybody?"  Especially kids:  How does anyone expect a 16-year-old who got busted for stealing a jacket from The Gap to spend time with much more incorrigible offenders--and some of the guards, who aren't, shall we say, the most upstanding citizens themselves-- and emerge with a greater sense of right and wrong (at least as the world outside the walls defines those things) than he had when he was hauled in?


I hear that, if anything, conditions in Rikers (and many other prisons and jails) are worse than they were in those days.   For one thing, many of the educational and vocational programs have been cut.  Moreover, the neighborhoods to which parolees return, or land, have fewer jobs and more social ills than they had back in the late '80s.  Studies show that large numbers of arrestees have learning disabilities and lack educational credentials or useful job skills.  Worst of all, there are few opportunities for inmates to engage in activities--whether educational, vocational or in service to others--that can help them to re-integrate in society when they are released, as most are at some point or another.


That is why I was happy to learn about Mauricio Argueta.


He is an inmate at Folsom State Prison in California.  You--and he--might say he is one of "Santa's eleves". He even has a workshop where he fixes and assembles bikes that will brigten up Christmas morning for needy kids in the area.




He works as part of a program run by the Cameron Park Rotary Club.  The program turned 30 years old this year and, in years past, has employed several inmates at a time.  However, this year, Argueta is the only one working on the bikes.  


All of the inmates who have participated in the program were non-violent offenders.  Argueta, who is scheduled to be released in 2019, is serving a sentence for DUI.  He says that after he is released, he hopes to open a bike shop.  Then, perhaps, he'll get to see the expressions of delight on the faces of kids who get the bikes he's put together.


P.S.:  I did my Rikers workshop when I was still living as male.  

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