Prison stories: from booze to bike mechanics

May 9, 2024

A bike mechanics selling a bike to a customer at a bike workshop.

We met Alex when he was 56 years old. He was training at our bike workshop inside HMP Bristol and in a bad place emotionally. Over time, he started to tell us about his life. It's always a great honour to be trusted in this way and we are especially grateful to Alex for sharing his story.

For most of his young adult life, Alex struggled with alcohol and drug misuse, which led him in and out of prison.  One day, he was arrested for drunk driving and lost his driving licence, so he started cycling to get around, including attending AA meetings. He became known for riding his bike around everywhere:

“People were so used to seeing me on my bike. They’d say, where’s Al and his bike?”

He felt a lot fitter and happier and kept out of prison for over 10 years.

A wrong turn

However, Alex got surrounded again by heavy drinkers and drug users and his old habits got the better of him. This resulted in a prison sentence. Being in HMP Bristol was a low moment for him. He felt ashamed to be 56 years old and back inside. In his moments of despair, Life Cycle’s workshop instructor, John, approached him and asked if he would like to join our bike maintenance activities. Alex was pleasantly surprised to find a bike workshop at the prison.

“When I entered the workshop it was like a breath of fresh air, I felt like I was not in prison anymore… it was like a bolt from the dark the fact that I could start the next day”.

Changing gear

Alex brought an infectious enthusiasm to his role and it was not long before he was helping others and acting as a peer mentor to a younger prisoner at the workshop, who needed support. Alex had a really good grasp of mechanics, produced high quality refurbished bikes and earned his Level 1 City & Guilds certificate. He was also in a good mental space and had a positive attitude right up to his release.

Through the gate

After release, Alex asked if he could learn more and we offered him a place on our Level 2 City & Guilds course later in the year. He said:

“It gave me a positive anchor for the period not long after my release and when I was also having to spend more time in my flat due to Covid.”

He has now asked us to help him apply for a job at Halfords so he can work with bikes professionally – which we are really happy to do!

Supporting people like Alex

There are so many prisoners like Alex who are desperate to turn their lives around. But prison offers few opportunities as inspiring as working in a bike workshop. Our Bikes Beyond Bars project teaches prisoners new skills and enables them to earn a nationally-recognised qualification. Not only does this provide a pathway away from crime, but it also helps them build up self-belief and sense of purpose whilst inside - so they are more ready to re-join the community after release.

Help people like Alex to build a brighter future, donate today.