A Fresh Start
For 15 years, Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility has partnered with Wheels for the World, a ministry of the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, to provide wheelchairs to people with disabilities. Since then, over 6,000 refurbished wheelchairs have been donated to children and adults affected by disability worldwide. The program has been a source of inspiration for participating inmates, who are given the opportunity to learn trade skills while gaining a sense of purpose from helping those in need.
“The guys that come up here to work, I see their attitudes change,” Program Facilitator Barton Wilson says. “You see them really take ownership of it.”
Wilson, who got his start as a correctional officer at age 18, has been watching inmates transform for years. As the facilitator for the Wheels for the World program, he sees individuals enter the program simply to have something to do, but in the end they’ve discovered a unique sense of fulfillment and gratification from the work. “In this little shop in Nashville, Tennessee, you see the fruits of your labor going out all over the world and changing real people’s lives.”
“It gives them a passion for what they’re doing, and it shows them that what they do matters.”
Program participants refurbish 45 wheelchairs per week, specializing in different parts of the chair. For example, one inmate may focus on restoring vinyl for the seats and armrests, while another may focus on the mechanics of the wheels.
Approximately 200 chairs are sent out in two to three shipments per year. Each wheelchair recipient receives a custom-fit wheelchair and training in wheelchair use and upkeep, as well as a Bible. And perhaps the most significant part of the process for inmates is when they receive a photo of the recipient sitting in the chair they restored.
Over 6,000 wheelchairs have been donated worldwide through Metro-Davidson’s partnership with Wheels for the World.
“The inmates may have never done anything that they consider to be worthwhile, so to see something as simple and as common as a wheelchair being used by somebody, it gives them a passion for what they’re doing, and it shows them that what they do matters,” Wilson explains.
Along with donated canes, crutches and walkers, short-term mission trips are made to third-world countries to deliver the wheelchairs. Wilson adds, “These inmates that we’re working with, yeah, they’re in prison, but each and every moment is important and each and every action is important.”