Every week, a truck carrying broken bikes drives into William Head Institution, a minimum-security facility in British Columbia. It might be an unusual sight to some, but at William Head, it’s just another Tuesday.
A volunteer unloads the truck and takes the bikes to the institution’s workshop. Inmates join the volunteer in the shop and prepare for surgery with wrenches and bike pumps.
The program is new—launched by William Head Institution late in 2022. Interested inmates learn to repair bicycles under the guidance of instructors from Compassionate Resource Warehouse. The volunteers share their passion and provide guidance to the program’s participants. The men, who can join with any level of experience, learn how to take apart and rebuild every part of a bicycle.
Each week, about 10 bikes are brought to the institution’s bike shop. None of the bikes are in riding condition. They all have missing or broken parts.
Compassionate Resource Warehouse is a charity that repairs broken bikes and donates them to communities in need. The charity collects discarded and unclaimed bikes, largely from local police.
When the bikes arrive at William Head, they are each assigned to an inmate who meticulously inspects the bicycle. The ones worth saving are carefully repaired and restored. They take apart the bikes that are beyond repair so parts can be saved and reused.
One inmate will work on each bike, so they develop the skills needed to conduct the repairs from start to finish. The volunteers help participants through each step and give feedback on their completed work.
The participants are grateful for the volunteers who facilitate the program and teach the skills. According to inmates, the volunteers are encouraging and create hope.
“I cannot say enough about the great value that volunteers bring,” said Josh, a participant in the bike repair program. “This is a job that is rewarding and can become a career as men return to the community with new confidence,” he said.
Renewed bikes are loaded back onto the truck and leave William Head. The Compassionate Resource Warehouse will send them all over the world. Some bikes will stay local to help people in BC while others will be donated overseas.
The positive work of the Bike Shop is not lost on its mechanics. Many appreciate the skills learned but the spirit of giving is first among all.
“We have an opportunity to give both to the local and the worldwide community as we use old and new skills to help others,” said Josh. “The giving-back work done by volunteers and residents in the bike shop is real restorative justice in action.”
In Newfoundland, a similar program repairs bikes for Indigenous communities. Many institutions see the value in fantastic programs like this!