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Part 2: A humbling duty: inmates refurbish wheelchairs for Honor Flight vets

(WBAY)
Published: Apr. 11, 2018 at 4:46 PM CDT
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Wisconsin veterans recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Washington, DC, as part of the Old Glory Honor Flight. Some of the veterans on that flight used wheelchairs cleaned and maintained by inmates at Redgranite Correctional.

It's a partnership with the state that gives inmates job skills and allows them to give back to the community.

The following is a story you'll see only on Action 2 News. The Department of Corrections has asked us not to identify the inmates in the story.

A MISSION TO HELP

Inmates at Redgranite Correctional say it's like Christmas. Once a week, a new shipment of damaged, dirty and broken medical equipment arrives at the medium security prison.

The equipment is in dire need of some TLC. The inmates have a mission to make it like new again.

"Every one knows someone who has some form of disability that uses this kind of stuff, so I like to think it's my family using it or someone I know using it. So I'll put everything I can into it and putting it back together to make sure it works properly," one of the inmates told Action 2 News.

They clean the equipment in a high-powered washing machine.

Next step: taking it apart.

"Just taking every nut and bolt. You've got to take everything off," one inmate says as he describes the process.

Every inch of a wheelchair is cleaned again with tiny brushes. Like a puzzle, the inmates put it back together.

"We draw up blue prints or take notes if things go a certain way," one inmate says.

Within a day or two, they have a like-new wheelchair ready for a new home.

"I'm very proud of what I do, because I know I'm paying back to somebody that really needs it, so I like it," one of the inmates tells Action 2 News.

HELPING OUR VETERANS

"We own 70 wheelchairs, and for them to be able to have a wheelchair that they know is ready for them to sit in and safe for them to go, that's a huge thing," says Lorraine Van Kampen, Vice President and volunteer board member for Old Glory Honor Flight Program.

Inmates in the Durable Medical Equipment Refurbishing Program help maintain, sanitize and clean the wheelchairs for veterans heading to the nation's capital on an Old Glory Honor Flight.

It's a simple, yet critical, step in ensuring a safe and memorable trip.

"We want to make sure nothing happens to one of our veterans," says Tony Van Kampen, board member for Old Glory Honor Flight Program. "They went through a war. Most of them didn't get hurt. We don't want them to get hurt on a wheelchair."

It's a point of pride for the inmates in the program.

"It's humbling. Real humbling. Me, being a veteran myself, so to give back to them and to people that need it is real good. Feels great," one of the inmates tells us.

GIVING BACK

The refurbished equipment is donated to the non-profit organization Independence First. The organization re-sells the equipment at the Mobility Store at a reduced cost.

"It's an amazing program," says Julie Schulz, Director for Mobility Stores. "You give it to people who need it and you see everyday the impact. And it seems kind of basic, but if you don't have a wheelchair or a bath chair, it's a dramatically different life."

Badger State Industries runs the program within the prison.

"This program will teach them, I think, work ethic and the hands-on skills to get out and have marketable skills when they get into the community," says Michael Meisner, Warden, Redgranite Correctional. "And that should equate to reducing recidivism."

The inmates get a sense of accomplishment.

"Giving back. Most of my life I've been taking, and now I'm giving back, so it feels good," says one of the inmates.

Independence First is taking donations of wheelchairs and other equipment.