Inmates fix toys for ChristmasBISMARCK (AP) — While most children can’t wait for Christmas to get here, inmates at the Missouri River Correctional Center don’t want the holiday season to come to an end.
By: By Rebecca Beitsch, The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK (AP) — While most children can’t wait for Christmas to get here, inmates at the Missouri River Correctional Center don’t want the holiday season to come to an end.
About a half dozen inmates at MRCC work to fix up old bikes and toys for needy families, something they say is a welcome break from their usual work at the prison.
“It’s a nice change from what we usually do around here,” said Chris Schroeder, 29, saying inmates are usually stuck cleaning. “I used to do mechanics on the outside, so it’s comfortable and relaxing for me here to pick up what I used to.”
The men work as part of the Christmas Playpen project, an effort between the Bismarck Tribune, the Salvation Army, MRCC, Go Mini’s storage, Dan’s Supermarket and Trans-Trash.
“Most jobs I don’t enjoy doing but this one I look forward to,” said James Chrisikos, 44, as he drives a purple remote-control car with flowers on it around the room. “I have a 6-year-old kid, so this is a way to give back, so it feels good.”
The men get started at 8 a.m. and work on the bikes and toys until about 3:30 p.m.
“It’s an enjoyable thing to do, it’s more productive and it has a cause to it,” said Jamie Nilsen, 25, as he repainted bikes.
Most on the men involved with the project are mechanically inclined.
“I have auto-body experience, so this is just to a smaller scale. It’s simpler, I guess,” Schroeder said, carefully painting letters onto a freshly painted bike frame.
Robert Martell, 36, said he didn’t know much about bikes before this, but he’s still enjoying the work.
“It’s not a motorcycle like I’d prefer, but it’s got two wheels,” Martell said. “It’s simple mechanic stuff, it’s not rocket science.”
While Schroeder and Martell work to put together a bike, Ivan Dietz, 31, is taking one apart, salvaging it for parts they can use to repair other bikes.
“I usually try to pick girl’s bikes because they’re not as beat up and it’s an easy fix,” Dietz said.
Robert Wenzloff, 31, is one of the few men on the team without any mechanical background. He is, however, very detail oriented, which is why it’s his job to clean every nook and cranny of each toy.
“I can’t fix my way out of a box, but I was told I have an eye for detail and I know kids want nice, new looking stuff,” Wenzloff said.
Wenzloff, who is due out in a few months, said working with toys is going to help him relate to his 3-year-old daughter.
“These toys are pretty complicated compared to when I was a kid,” he said.
Wenzloff also has one of the more embarrassing jobs of the team — testing all of the teeny, tiny and occasionally girly bikes.
“The guys make fun of me a lot but it’s all good because I don’t mind being a guinea pig,” Wenzloff said. “A lot of the guys don’t want to do it because they’re too big, but I don’t want to give the kids something that looks good but doesn’t work.”
After they’ve been cleaned, Chrisikos works to repair the electronic toys.
“It’s trial and error basically,” Chrisikos said. “It’s kind of exciting when something’s broken because you usually get two or three of everything so you can work to put it together like new.”
Chrisikos got a nearly new powerwheels motorized scooter, but it didn’t work, so he replaced it with the motor from a partially broken similar toy.
He also helps spruce up some of the other toys.
“It’s like, here I am, covered in tattoos, combing Barbie hair,” he said.
The men have been working since Nov. 1, but the project comes to an end in mid-December when the toys will be taken to the Salvation Army to be distributed to families.
Chrisikos said they’re hoping to get more donations as soon as possible so they can get more toys out to the kids.
But he along with many of the other inmates are making pleas with MRCC management to get to continue working on the toys for just a little bit longer.
“We’re bummed about it ending,” Chrisikos said. “We’re trying to talk the boss into letting us do it longer so we can get a head start on next year.”