Changing lives for all one wheelchair at a time

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Friday, January 20, 2012 - 5:32pm

Hundreds of wheelchairs are headed from the Louisiana State Penitentiary to the Dominican Republic today. All of them started out as junk and were fixed up by Angola inmates.

Orlando Griffin has an unusual job.

“It’s really fun for me to have the opportunity to see the chair come to life,” he says. “Get your mind off life, you know.”

Five days a week, he spends his time in building wheelchairs for the disabled.

“We just break it down, clean it up, use steel wool,” Griffin explains.

Griffin is an inmate at the Angola State Penitentiary.

“These hands that caused so much trouble in life can now do some good for somebody,” he says.

He's one of a handful of prisoners working for the Wheels for the World project.

“It makes me kind of excited to come to work knowing that I'm going to fix a chair to help someone else,” Albert Hills, another inmate working for the program, added. “Most of them are broke and banged up, and make them good as new.

“They really put their hearts into it,” Lt. Dwyane Anthony, oversees wheelchair program, describes. “And that's one thing I would tell them if a chair is not right, put some more love in it.”

Then, their handiwork goes all over the world.

“We've sent chairs to Cuba, to the Dominican Republic,” Gary Young, says. “We've sent chairs to Haiti, Hungary.”

The 220 chairs currently at Angola will make the journey to the Dominican Republic, along with refurbished walkers, crutches, and canes. Angola is one of only 16 penitentiaries across the country that does something like this, and it gives the inmates a second chance, too.

“It actually makes me feel good knowing that I can show somebody that we're not all the same people that came in here.”

Angola began the partnership in 2004 and has since re-built and shipped out more than 3,000 wheelchairs.

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