Inmates Rubin Johnson III, left, and Thomas Claybourne assemble a donated tricycle. It is one of those to be given to children who are served by Lucas County Children Services.
The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
Toriano Howard has been too big for a tricycle for at least a few decades, but that didn't stop him from taking a just-assembled trike for a test spin.
Howard, 41, a Clevelander who has spent the past year and a half as an inmate in the Toledo Correctional Institution, was one of 27 men, all volunteers, putting together 50 bicycles and tricycles Wednesday that will be given as Christmas gifts to children in the Lucas County Children Services system.
“Can you imagine being a kid who doesn't have a lot and then, all of a sudden, to have one of these?” asked Julie Malkin, spokesman for children services.
The cycles were donated by Bike Lady Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in 2008 by Katherine Gatch, 45, a foster-turned-adoptive parent who lives in Gahanna, a Columbus suburb.
The cycles arrived at the maximum-security prison, home to more than 1,200 inmates, Wednesday morning.
The children who will receive the bikes are in the care of their biological families; the cycles will be given to them by a family member — probably disguised as a gift from Santa.
“It’s not just for the kids, it’s for the caregivers,” Ms. Gatch said. “The kids don’t know they came from the county, they don’t know about the Bike Lady. It’s their grandmother, those who are in kinship care, who get the bikes. It’s grandma who gets the gift of giving the bike.” As of Wednesday, more than 700 bicycles were slated to be given by Bike Lady Inc. to children in eight counties, seven of them in central Ohio.
It didn’t take long for the men, in teams of two, to start ripping open the boxes to assemble cycles of various sizes — something for everyone.
In about an hour, Thomas Claybourne and Rubin Johnson III were working on assembling their fifth vehicle — which included the red tricycle that didn’t buckle under Howard’s heavier-than-a-toddler frame.
“I missed this with my little boy,” Johnson, 41, of Sandusky said. “I’m kind of emotional right now.”
Johnson was incarcerated in 2009 after being convicted in Erie County of robbery, rape, burglary, and breaking and entering. His son, whom he gets to see on occasional visits, is 3.
Johnson will remain in prison until at least 2021, although his maximum sentence doesn’t expire until 2054.
Jeremy Bush has been in prison for six years, he said as he pushed a tassle of glittering ribbons into a girl’s bicycle.
“I figured since everyone in here did some stuff to the community, I want to give back and make amends,” said Bush, 34, of Toledo. “They said, ‘Hey, we need volunteers to build bicycles for kids,’ and it was a no-brainer. We were going to do it.”
Bush, who was convicted in Lucas County in 2000 of kidnapping and felonious assault, should be out of prison in about four years.
Next Christmas will be the first that Derrick Chapman, 29, of Cincinnati gets to spend with his 6-year-old daughter.
“I haven’t got to spend one day with her,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to building her bicycle — and one for his 10-year-old son — next December. His release is scheduled for Dec. 12, 2013.
Chapman was incarcerated in 2006 for intimidation, aggravated robbery, and receiving stolen property.
Charles Thompson, 23, of Toledo was working with Chapman to assemble the toys. Thompson — imprisoned in 2009 for aggravated robbery and robbery — said he and others watch the news and see reports about shootings and homicides.
He’s hoping that giving bicycles to children will help and that people will see him trying to make a difference, even though he is confined by prison walls.
“We can help change society from the inside,” he said.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: email@example.com or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @tdungjen_Blade.