People ride bikes for all sorts of reasons: for their health; to save money on gas; they can't afford a car; they just prefer biking to driving a car; they don't want to support oil and gas development. Another reason is that they aren't allowed to drive, namely, due to a conviction for driving under the influence.
I've sold bikes to people who've had DUI convictions. They typically don't want to bike. They don't act or dress like cyclists - I think they view biking as something for kids. They step outside for a smoke while trying to decide on a bike. They're always with a friend. They're the guys you see biking while wearing Carhartts and work boots, no helmet and sometimes, smoking while they ride. As soon as they get their license back, the biking stops for many of them. A bike is a means for independent transportation just until they can drive again. Which brings us to Dave.
Dave started working at the shop late this past winter. He came recommended by a guy we've known for years and is an experienced bike mechanic. When I first met him, we chatted only briefly. Then I started back at the shop & I got to know him a tiny bit more, as all the other people who work there have. Dave is in the process of a life change. In his mid-30s, he's had a few run-ins with the authorities and was getting ready to serve a DUI sentence from last fall. But he was allowed to serve it while not behind bars.
Instead of the greybar hotel, Dave rented a tiny efficiency in Midtown and commuted by bike to the shop, in South Anchorage. He wasn't allowed to drive. Instead he rode his snow bike. As the days got nicer and his route cleared, he pulled out his old-school road bike and the spring-weight cycling tights. In April, he got an ankle monitor that tracked his whereabouts and could detect alcohol. People looked at him kind of funny when they saw it on his ankle as he biked across town to the shop. I suggested he get something of equal weight to put on the other ankle so one leg wouldn't get stronger than the other. He was self conscious about it, but it was a small price to pay to be allowed to go to work each day, help support his young son and keep working on turning his life around. Everyone. Everyone at the shop likes Dave.
I told Jon that Dave was a perfect fit for the shop. Sense of humor; knowledgeable, yet willing to learn new things; always helpful; kind to everyone. It's tough finding skilled mechanics each year, let alone one who is a good fit for our quirky shop, so everyone was really happy to have him. Then a week and a half ago, Dave was taken into custody. The people who monitor the monitor thought he'd had a drink, though he didn't test positive. His apartment had been searched; our shop had a surprise visit. He could make one phone call so he called to say he wouldn't be in and that something had gone wrong with his monitor. And, though I haven't known him long, I believe him. Because I believe people who want to change will change and he was so happy to be free even with the restrictions he had to his freedom.
Last Monday, Pete (another shop guy) and I made a visit to the Anchorage jail. There are two buildings. My friend Adam, an attorney, told me Dave was in the better of the two facilities. We had to check in an hour before our visit - so, to see him at 1pm, we had to check in at noon, after which, we could run errands or just wait. It was a nice day and we did have a couple of errands. When we returned, we waited more, then after being allowed upstairs realized that they hadn't told us which visiting room we'd be in, so we ran back down the stairs to find out and returned. We entered a room, turned left and there he was, sitting, waiting. What a surprise! They don't tell prisoners who the visitors are and we were only his 2nd & 3rd visitors since he'd gone in on Friday.
We talked about what happened. He told us some stories (Dave is always good for a few stories). We found out what we could get for him. We told him his job will be waiting for him. He commented to me "you've never been in a jail before, have you?" and laughed when I shrugged and said I've never had a reason to. Sometimes it surprises me how quickly someone begins to feel like a part of the family. Maybe it's because he doesn't know that many people in Anchorage. Or because work was the only place he was allowed to go while wearing the monitor (except on his designated errand day). But it's like the shop was just waiting for him to arrive.
Last Tuesday, I put a couple books in the mail for him. (Did you know you can't just take things to prisoners in the Anchorage jail? They have to be mailed.) I wondered if he would be transferred to a half-way house before the books arrived. A week went by and I decided to stop by again this Monday. He'd been transferred to Palmer. Visitors would have to jump through a few hoops and drive about an hour to visit.
At the shop, one of the mechanics pulled together a bundle of bike magazines to mail out. We compiled a visitor list to mail Dave so the prison can do background checks on us before we visit. He has just over two weeks to go. I can't even imagine what that feels like...
I just finished reading the book, Switch: How to change things when change is hard. It reminds me that if we are motivated, set concrete goals and have the right kind of support, change is possible. I'm hopeful that through working at the shop with a group of people who support his goals that Dave will make the changes he wants to make in his life. It's kind of our job as his friends & coworkers to help him out. I mean, doesn't making a big change also take a village?