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Building Custom Motorcycles in the Big House

The US Department of Justice says that, at least back  in 2006, there were over 7.2 million people  in prison in America. While that number includes people on probation or parole, it’s a staggering figure and means that roughly 1 in every 32 Americans are guests of the state in one way or another.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College London, 2.3 million of that number are  in prison right now, and the only country that even comes close, the People’s Republic of China, has only 1.6 million inmates – out of a population more than four as large as that of the United States.

One Colorado prison plans to set some of those inmates to work building custom motorcycles.

They’re hoping inmates can complete one custom bike every month. The authorities plan to sell the bikes made by the men in the program a state website at coloradoci. They’re hoping inmates can complete one custom bike every month.

“We’ve got the machine shop, the graphics and the skills, so there is so much stuff we can do,” said one official. “When we’re not manufacturing license plates we can take on something like this.”

What do the inmates think about the idea? Dave Johnson, the inmate who came up with the idea for his fellow inmates to build the bikes, was a custom bike builder himself before he went up for his stretch.

“I help with the design and fabrication,” Johnson said. “It’s great and it’s an opportunity.”

Some of the other inmates can hear opportunity knocking and they signed on to follow Johnson’s lead.

“This is our first prototype and we are all learning from Dave,” said Brett Major. Major’s dad has built some custom motorcycles over the last 15 years.

Prison staffer Rick Fitzpatrick, the supervising machinist at the prison, has built motorcycles for years and he’s riding shotgun on the project.

“The frame was built by a professional frame builder and we will use those to start with, but we may be able to build our own later,” Fitzpatrick said.

A sewing machine at the prison’s sign shop will be put to work stitching motorcycle seats, and the prison’s powder coating operation (prisoners also make office furniture) did the frame and wheel rims of the first bike.

“It’s a blessing. My whole family is into bikes and I’ve always wanted to go to MMI and now I’m getting the experience and knowledge to put one together,” said inmate Shaun Resendez about taking part in the program.

When he makes parole in eight months, Resendez said he plans to keep up the momentum he’s generating through the program and go to the school with the goal of ultimately working as a motorcycle mechanic.

Photo copyright TRACY HARMON

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