PLAINFIELD — Restored wheelchairs will soon be on their way to those who need them most, courtesy of a select group of inmates at the Plainfield Correctional Facility.
The first installment of 200 restored wheelchairs by this group were packed March 15 as part of the Wheels of the World initiative founded by Joni Earickson Toda, who broke her neck in a swimming
accident and became a quadriplegic because of the episode.
“This program was at the Indy Reformatory originally, but they were locked down so much that they didn’t have the inmates necessary to work on the chairs,” explained Phil Slavens, public information
officer at the PCF. “Her organization gives old chairs and restores them to not good, but brand new condition. Then they’re shipped out to third world countries that don’t have as much as we do, to people who may have never been able to walk.
“This is our first shipment. It’s 200 chairs and slated to go to Romania. It gives the inmates a chance to do something worthwhile and it’s a much sought after job in the facility.”
Not just anyone is chosen to do the refurbishing.
“First, they have to be clear of conduct,” Slavens said. “If they have any report at all, they’re not going to be considered.”
Representatives from Wheels of the World come to the facility to teach the inmates how to refurbish the chairs to perfection and return throughout the process to make sure the work is being done
Slavens says the inmates love the opportunity to work on the wheelchairs, and that plans are in the works to expand the program as they get acclimated with the process.
“Eventually we’d like to work up to three shipments a year,” he said. “We started the program last summer and this is the first shipment that’s going out. The inmates aren’t really gushy and don’t talk about what it means to them, but I know it gives them a sense of pride. It’s not easy work. There are a number of chairs that need to get done and they expect us to get so many per month and so far we’ve been able to stay ahead of that.”
Slavens said this is just one of the ways that the PCF gives back to the community around them.
“It’s always a goal for our facility to be a viable part of the community,” he said. “This year we’re also having a garden and will give the food away to food banks and homeless shelters. With this
wheelchair program, it allows us to not only reach out to the local community, but to be a part of the global community as well.”
Another project they’re involved with is with a group they affectionately refer to as the Knit Wits. A volunteer working with the PCF’s Plus Unit, which is a character- and faith-based dormitory at
the facility, has inmates taking up knitting for a good cause.
“One of our volunteers in the Plus Unit has the inmates making hats, specifically baby hats,” Slaven said. “They’ll bring in a movie and they’ll knit hats to send to Afghanistan. There’s a lot we try to do that rarely gets out, but this is something we’re really proud of.”