MONROE - Inside the Monroe County Inmate Dormitory Facility, inmates are turning scraps of donated fabrics into quilts and restoring abandoned or stolen bicycles to working condition.
It's part of a program that doesn't cost taxpayers a dime and serves multiple purposes: putting items into the hands of needy children and families across the county and providing prisoners with skills they can use outside the jail.
"Bicycles are the main thing. We are fixing them up for underprivileged kids," said Deputy Kenneth Cain, who runs the program for the Monroe County Sheriff's Department.
Most bikes that come into the program are unclaimed items from the property rooms of the sheriff's office and the Monroe Police Department.
Deputy Cain said bicycles also are donated by people who no longer want them.
Once the bicycles are restored to working condition, cleaned, and polished, they are sent to the Arthur Lesow Community Center, the Salvation Army, and the Monroe County Youth Center.
The Lesow center on Monroe's east side last year gave away more than 70 bicycles it obtained through the program, Executive Director Will Sweat said.
"We try to make sure that anyone who needs a bike gets one," he said. "It's been a good program for us."
Inmates also produce hand-sewn quilts and dolls in the jail program.
The quilts are assembled by sewing scrap fabric pieces together and fitting remnants of tattered wool jail blankets inside.
Deputy Cain screens volunteers from the 160-bed jail on East Dunbar Road to determine their mechanical ability to work on bikes or operate the sewing machines to make dolls and quilts.
Over six years, inmates at the lockup in Monroe Charter Township have reconditioned 5,119 bicycles and produced 1,929 hand-sewn lap quilts and 1,440 rag dolls.
The sheriff's office said 31 of the bicycles and 175 quilts went to victims of Hurricane Katrina in September, 2005.
Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said the program provides inmates with a skill that they may not have had before they entered the facility and keeps them busy while they are incarcerated.
"We are happy with the program, and we will continue as long as I am sheriff," he said. "I can't foresee eliminating this program because of the benefits the community derives from it."
Scrap metal from bikes and parts that can't be fixed are given to recycling centers in exchange for money. Deputy Cain uses the proceeds to buy components and other parts, such as tires and tubes.
The Salvation Army's Maj. Michael Thomas said most of the nearly 300 bikes given to his organization were distributed during the holidays to needy children. Lap quilts made by trusties were used at the Salvation Army's homeless shelter.
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