Getting out of prison can be a harsh experience. Simple things like a driver’s license, a steady job and a home seem out of reach for many leaving the Department of Corrections.
Without reliable transportation, those necessities can be even harder to attain.
Chris Andrews is a case manager for Manna soup kitchen’s Work and Gain Education & Employment Skills program, established to help people be successful after getting out of prison.
When Andrews heard the city of Durango was open to funding electric bicycle loan programs in addition to offering e-bike rebates, he jumped at the opportunity. He applied for and received funding from the city to purchase four e-bikes to loan out.
Since the e-bike loan program began in the spring, it’s had a huge impact on Andrews’ clients, many of whom are estranged from family and are unhoused when they’re released from prison, he said.
Andrews said his clients can borrow e-bikes for up to 180 days. He supplies them with helmets, bike locks and information about Durango’s laws and regulations about e-bikes. He said he will even replace a lost bike lock or helmet the same day it’s requested, if possible.
Those who took advantage of the loan program have been more successful than the parolees who did not, Andrews said. Just being able to get around town, picking up groceries, recreating and commuting to work has made a positive impact on his clients’ lives.
One of his clients in particular, Donny Sanchez, has been successful since starting the WAGEES program and borrowing an e-bike.
Sanchez was paroled on May 31 after serving nine months at Centennial Correctional Facility in Cañon City after being convicted of possessing a weapon as a previous offender. When he got out, he had nowhere to go.
Sanchez’s parole officer connected him with Andrews, who put Sanchez and his wife up in a hotel and helped them secure an apartment, paying their security deposit in the process.
Andrews bought Sanchez between $200 and $300 worth of clothes, helped him set achievable goals and hooked him up with an e-bike to get around with.
“I really appreciate Chris and the program,” Sanchez said. “If not (for that), I would be out on the streets.”
He said it’s a big problem for people exiting corrections to save up for a deposit on an apartment. People living in hotel rooms can’t save an extra $1,500 to get a place of their own. The WAGEES program helped Sanchez get a step ahead of where he would otherwise be.
“I’d say at least half of the people that are paroled to La Plata County are being paroled homeless,” Andrews said. “So they’re getting out and they don’t have anywhere to go.”
He said transportation is huge for people to stabilize their lives. With help from the WAGEES program, his clients are often able to get full-time employment and an apartment within two months after being paroled.
Sanchez said he logged 600 miles on his e-bike the first month he was in the program. The bike he borrowed can take him 25 miles on one charge and takes just three hours to power back up. Sometimes, he puts in 20 miles in a day. Other times, he rides 50 miles.
“Before, I would have to wait for somebody to give me a ride or use the transit and the trolley to get around,” he said. “With the e-bike, I can cruise around for, like I said, 25 miles to a charge.”
He said he has lived most of his adult life in and out of prison since 2004 because of a life of crime he adopted to fuel his drug addiction. He has 18 felony convictions, ranging from vehicular theft, escapes from custody, trespassing and high-speed chases.
“It was basically all revolving around trying to get more drugs,” he said. “I have an 18-year-old daughter. I have a wife. … I’m just out here to work, get back on my feet, get financially stable, get my license back, be able to buy a vehicle.”
The e-bike is like having a car, except it doesn’t require gas or insurance, he said. It is easy for him to get around Durango.
The funding that made WAGEES’ e-bike loan program possible stemmed from a city e-bike rebate program that aimed to encourage low-income earners to purchase e-bikes. People who were awarded rebates in that program started receiving their new bikes in June.
City sustainability manager Marty Pool, who was involved in the e-bike rebate program, said WAGEES’ loan program is a great community resource.
In June, Andrews expanded his fleet of e-bikes to nine total. He said he wants to continue making more e-bikes available to his clients, and there’s potentially room in other Manna programs for bike loan services.
“I feel really blessed to be able to offer (the e-bikes),” he said. “… It definitely seems encouraging for them to actually feel like they stand a chance of completing parole and being successful.”