Skateboards connect small California town to state prison
AVENAL, California. (KGPE) – It is known for its pistachio crops and its state prison. The small town of Avenal, California may not be well known to many, but skateboards help bring the prison and the community closer together.
Tucked away on the western flank of the San Joaquin Valley in Kings County is Avenal.
“It’s a small, friendly community where people like to help each other,” Mayor Alvaro Preciado said.
Of the 15,000 people who live at Avenal, 86% identify as Hispanic or Latin American. Most work in agriculture, for the school district or town, or for Avenal State Prison. Unlike most prisons, it was the people of Avenal who advocated for its construction in the 1980s and were the first small town to successfully secure a state prison.
“It was a way to bring visibility and jobs to the community and it also allowed us to strengthen relationships at the state level,” said Preciado.
About five years ago, Rodney Rodriguez, a resident and skateboarder of Fresno, had an idea.
“The prison and the city didn’t seem to have much communication until I brought skateboards,” Rodriguez said.
He founded “Fresno Skateboard Salvage”, Fresno Skateboard Salvage, a nonprofit organization that supplies new skateboards to underserved children in the Central Valley. He collects old and worn skateboards and gives them to local artists to paint and turn into works of art which will then be auctioned off. The money raised is used to buy new skateboards for the children.
He donates them to local skateparks and other community events around Fresno and the wider Central Valley. Since the program began about five years ago, it has distributed over 1,200 new skateboards.
“I didn’t realize that skateboarding was preventing me from joining a gang. I liked this activity so much more that I avoided what other people were doing, which was easier to do, I guess, ”Rodriguez said.
About two years ago, while Rodriguez was working his day job as a truck driver, he went to a local jail and had an idea.
“It struck me that there maybe some really creative men who, if given the chance, would help,” Rodriguez said.
Avenal State Prison has become its first penitentiary partner, where now more than 30 incarcerated artists participate in the program.
“I was able to reflect on who I am, who I was and where I am going in my life,” said Monte Galvan, who is incarcerated at Avenal State Prison.
Galvan said the experience was enriching and allowed him to express himself through art. He said it helped him prepare for his future and his goals of graduating and becoming an art teacher.
“Growing up here as a kid, it was a good thing to give back to my community by making amends and it was good for me and everyone around me,” said Galvan.
He said the program had helped him bond with his 14-year-old son, who skateboarded.
“He actually shared it with a lot of his friends at school and also with the kids he used to skate with. unfortunate circumstance of my imprisonment, ”said Galvan.
The program has become so popular that Rodriguez is now being noticed by other state prisons, like Corcoran. Recently, dozens of boards were given to the children of Avenal, putting them in touch with the detainees, a few kilometers away.
“I saw quite a few skateboards go through the door in the morning. “It’s a great way for them to become more active and a great way for them to get around town,” said Avenal Elementary School principal Blanca Rodriguez.
The program not only gives the opportunity to those who are confined indoors, but also outdoors.
“I see what this does not only for the kids here in the park, but also for the morale of the prison,” said Rodney Rodriguez.