Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reaching through the bars

My job allows me to talk to some fascinating people that most people never get to meet. I'm not talking about "important" people like senators and entertainers, but folks like the men in the Lifers' Association at David Wade Correctional Center.

They amazed me again this week with contributions of toys and bikes worth more than $2,000 to various charities in North Louisiana.

These men have committed crimes that resulted in a life sentence. Objectively, at least at one point in their lives, they were not nice people. But instead of dwelling on their fate, they have decided to do something positive with their future. They also provide examples for younger inmates, many of whom will be released to the public again.

Monday the Lifers and AANA (Alcoholics Anonymous/ Narcotics Anonymous) had a program to present their Christmas gifts to the community. A new project allowed them to help more than 30 children this Christmas. This fall the two groups started refurbishing bicycles.

Debra Cody, administrative sponsor of the group, said it took awhile for the project to be approved because of security concerns such as access to tools. It finally happened, and the first few bikes were given to the Boys and Girls Club of Homer in October. Then a couple of Grambling professors got involved, and sent about 130 used bikes to the prison. Men worked on them and managed to have 17 ready to give to the Boys and Girls Club and another 17 to the Providence House.

On top of those donations, they also had money to give from their usual fundraiser of selling handmade bird feeders. Through those sales and other fundraisers the men donated $1100 to Toys for Tots and another several hundred dollars to buy presents for the children at Hope Youth Ranch.

The men are under no illusion that theycan "make up" for what their crimes, but they do show the spirit of repentance and rehabilitation that we all would hope to see from the prison system. And they are thrilled and thankful for the opportunity. Inmate Roy Ates explained it to me a couple of years ago: "We do this because it's the right thing to do."

Photo: Marines pose with toys donated to Toys for Tots. From Debra Cody at David Wade.

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