Bike Lady Inc.'s Jailhouse Writing Program

Chris Gaitten
Inmate Randy Jackson places a bow on a finished bicycle.

When Kate Koch decided to donate 10 bikes to Franklin County Children’s Services in 2008, she had no idea it would one day land her in prison teaching juvenile offenders how to write business letters. But such is the power of the bike.

Friends, neighbors and strangers wanted to contribute, and before she knew it, she had 125 bikes to donate that year. It became a full-fledged charity, Bike Lady Inc., which now has given away more than 11,000 bikes to kids in foster care and protective services across Ohio.

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The nonprofit continued to grow and evolve, eventually working with inmates to assemble the bikes. In 2018, Koch began focusing only on the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, working specifically with youth offenders convicted of serious crimes as adults. The young male prisoners named the program Ride Out. Koch asks them to write letters to the bike recipients in hopes that it might make a difference for foster children, whose outcomes—incarceration, homelessness—are often bleak if they age out of the system.

She discovered that writing the letters was therapeutic for some boys, but their skills weren’t very advanced. Koch realized that someday they would need to write to the parole board and apply for jobs, so she wrote them two letters as examples: one explaining business style and another telling them how proud she was of them. The inmates’ letters improved overnight, she says.

Now, Koch is in the process of incorporating a writer’s workshop into Ride Out to coach them on journaling, writing technique and expressing their thoughts. “Rehab and corrections is not my area of professionalism or expertise,” she says, “but there’s something here.”


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