Motorcyclists share hope with Lowell inmates

Published: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 7:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 7:29 p.m.

More than 20 motorcycles, complete with leather-clad bikers, roared into the yard at Lowell Correctional Institution in a surprise visit to the women's state prison on Saturday morning.

The motorcycles were part of a non-denominational Christian outreach program that visits correctional facilities across the state to try to spread hope to those inside.

Organizing the event was ROOT Outreach, which stands for Running Out of Time, and is based out of Fellowship Baptist Church near Ocala. Members of several other ministries attended the event as well.

Many at the event have checkered pasts themselves -- pasts that are used as examples of how anyone can be reformed.

"I usually end up talking to the mean ones, because I used to be a mean one," said Debbie Whisenant of ROOT. "At one time, I was property of a one-percenter biker gang. We've done exactly what they've done, but God saved us."

The one-percenter designation is biker slang for the 1 percent of bikers who belong to criminal and outlaw motorcycle clubs.

"We talk to people who are depressed and despondent because they think they have done too many things wrong. We're here to let them know that it's never too late," she said. "Some people don't like that we do this for the inmates. I feel that they might deserve to be in prison, but they don't have to go to hell."

Willie Allen, who spent 15 years on Florida's Death Row and 26 years in prison before his conviction was overturned, was back near familiar ground.

"I spent some time at Marion Correctional Institute (the men's prison) across the street. I'm familiar with this area," he said "I know what they are going through, but I can say Jesus got me out and kept me out. That can be true for anyone here. I was institutionalized for 26 years and broke that old theory that if you're in for more than five years, you won't stay out long."

Allen travels across the country and abroad, sharing his story to other prisoners.

Parked on the basketball court area inside the prison gates, the motorcycles drew the attention of the inmates. Dozens of them began filing into the area to get a closer look. The most popular was a custom chopper built by Al Paquette. The bike named "Doin Time" features a prison motif with a miniature working cell door on the gas tank. The rest of the bike is adorned with handcuffs, razor wire and other items seen at prisons.

The inmates freely mingled with those at the event, talked about motorcycles, compared tattoos and even started dancing to the ministry's music.

"I'm glad that they did this for us. It's great to just meet people and talk to them. In here it's a daily routine," said Debra Touchet, one of the inmates at the event.

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