A Good Cycle 

Boise Bicycle Project looks to Idaho prisons for help fixing bikes

BBP's Jimmy Halliburn (left) and IDOC Director Kevin Kemp (right)

Jessica Murri

BBP's Jimmy Halliburn (left) and IDOC Director Kevin Kemp (right)

Every morning, Boise Bicycle Project Executive Director Jimmy Hallyburton's alarm goes off at 6:30. Before he does anything else, he grabs a legal notepad and fills three pages with reflections, ideas and goals. He circles his daily goal and keeps it at the forefront of his mind all day.

As bike donations at the Boise Bicycle Project continue to pile up faster than Hallyburton and his crew can fix and hand them out to children in need, one particular idea kept emerging in his daily free writes.

"We really want to maximize our space here and get as many bikes out to people as possible, so while trying to figure out a storage solution we thought about having them fixed somewhere else," Hallyburton said. "Who could be fixing the bikes?"

At the same time, Hallyburton kept running into another challenge: recently released inmates from the Idaho Department of Correction coming in to get a bicycle, but they either couldn't afford one or didn't qualify for BBP's programs.

"We started to wonder if we could solve our storage problem, solve a problem of getting bicycles for prisoners and then also try to figure out a way where they can contribute to our program and get more bikes to kids," he said. "We came up with a win-win-win scenario."

Hallyburton's idea is to take 10-20 kids' bikes to the prison southeast of Boise once a week and spend two hours helping inmates patch flat tires, replace rusted chains and adjust brakes. Eventually, he hopes the prisoners can fix the bikes without him.

IDOC Director Kevin Kempf couldn't be more thrilled with the idea.

"This just fits perfectly with what we want to do," he said. "As a corrections system, we want to partner with the community. We know our inmates and our staff will be super excited about this. I just see it as a win-win."

On a recent Tuesday morning tour of the Boise Bicycle Project, Kempf was impressed by the hundreds of bikes stacked head-high in the nonprofit's small backyard. The organization received 89 bikes on Sunday, Nov. 15 alone.

Hallyburton explained the problem: with so many donations, the bikes stay stacked on top of each other and it takes months to get to the bottom of the piles. By then, the bikes at the bottom are so rusted from the elements, they often have to be parted out.

"We need to get that circulation going," Hallyburton said.

Kempf is also anxious to get a program like this started to reverse course on the negative reputation that has dogged IDOC for years.

"We actively want to change the image of corrections and this a great way to do it," he said.

On the same token, Hallyburton is excited to help inmates move beyond their own pasts and onto a better life.

"Think about how hard it is to get a job, even if you haven't just gotten out of prison," Hallyburton said. "Imagine getting the door slammed in your face everywhere you went. That can be a hard environment. As soon as you can make it a more welcoming environment, where you are trying to work with them and give them skills, you see people turn around really quickly—when all of the sudden a door opens for them."

For each kid's bike an inmate repairs, Hallyburton said the inmate will receive a credit toward an adult bike at Boise Bicycle Project. When the inmate is released, he or she can come straight to BBP's shop and cash in the voucher for a reliable bike, helmet, lock and a set of bike lights.

The details aren't ironed out yet, but Hallyburton said a an adult bike would be worth around 15 fixed kids' bikes. Half the fixed bikes will be donated to families in need and the other half would be for sale at a discounted price—around $20 or $40.

"The sales for those pay for the adult bikes for the folks released from prison," he said. "Then you're looking at a program that's self-funding."

To help get the program up and running, Hallyburton put out a call on Facebook to create a task force that could bring the idea to fruition. Within hours of the post going live on Nov. 11, it reached more than 15,000 people and had more than 150 shares.

He has a dozen people on board with a diverse set of backgrounds, including some who were formerly incarcerated. He suspects the program will be operational by spring 2016.

With Kempf onboard, the program might move faster than Hallyburton thought.

"The good news for us is we can move pretty fast once we have willing participants on both ends," Kempf said. "This is an exciting project, so it won't take us very long to get up and running. I would say a matter of weeks, not months."

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