'It keeps your mind going', say prisoners fixing bikes for kids
Prisoners are being given training in how to up-cycle bikes that will help transport African children struggling to get to and from school.
The initiative, which is supported by the Irish Prison Service, local councils and the Defence Forces, has sent 3,000 bikes to The Gambia.
The scheme is run within Loughan House Open Prison in Co Cavan.
The centre is one of only two prisons of its kind in Ireland.
It is a low-security facility which houses male offenders that are over 18 and deemed low security.
Loughan focuses on aiding the rehabilitation of inmates through educational and training programmes.
Prisoners are also given the opportunity to work in the polytunnels, where over 4,000 sunflowers are grown each year.
There is also the option of working in the shed-like cafe alongside the polytunnels, which overlooks freshwater lake, Lough MacNean.
Joe and Derek are two of three prisoners who spend their days working in the bike repair shop located within the grounds.
From Monday to Friday each week, the repairmen work on hundreds of broken-down bikes sent to them through collection points set up by Rotary Ireland.
Once they fix enough bikes to fill a lorry, they are transferred to The Gambia, in west Africa, where children living 5km or more away from their school are gifted a bike.
Both Joe and Derek said working in the bike shop "keeps your mind going", and makes the days go by quicker.
"When you're in a closed prison you have your regime, it's a different experience," Joe said.
"Being in a closed jail, you have six minutes to talk to your family on the phone.
"You get a visit once a week - if you're lucky. You're in your cell - Jesus, how many hours a day?
"You're then out into a yard. It's tarmacadam, barbed wire. So here, there's flowers. There's nice people. You're out all day."
The facilities have given both men the chance to get to know their families again.
For Derek, being able to change his daughter's nappy during visits is a novelty.
Joe agreed, and said the setting has played a crucial role in helping him reintroduce himself within his family unit.
"To be away from your family for so long, it's hard. There is a transition period. I was away for so long, I'm trying to get to know my kid again. I'm trying to get to know my wife again," he said.
"This gives you a good opportunity to spend a day, a full day, with them and they can come back tomorrow if they wanted to.
"If people have a problem with it, try to put themselves in our shoes.
"Like, if it was their son, or their daughter, or their father, or their mother.
"How would they feel about it, if they were visiting someone in a closed jail for two years and then they came to visit someone in here?"
Rotary said it is currently looking to expand the initiative to another facility as, at the moment, Loughan House is the only prison supporting the initiative.
The facility can refurbish around 1,500 bikes per year, which equates to five 40ft containers.