Editor’s Note: This city’s getting more bike lanes. And it’s no coincidence. Folks here care about bikes, talk about bikes, and are definitely riding bikes. THE HUB is a new collaborative space for bike enthusiasts of every type — from racers to tricksters, explorers to commuters. Each month, one of the HUB contributors will take the mic and talk bike. Here you’ll get information on events, new stylings, local biker profiles, and commentary on the two-wheel life.
Today, we hear from Katie Hunter-Lowrey about the Nola to Angola bike ride.
Check your tires and light the fires, this Friday morning Nola to Angola begins its three day, 170 mile bicycle ride to Louisiana State Penitentiary. Now in its fourth year, riders raise funds which support the Cornerstone Builder’s Bus Project. Founded by Reverend Leo Jackson, Cornerstone provides free buses for friends and family members to visit their incarcerated loved ones in various prisons across the state. The need for this service is only growing as Louisiana continues to incarcerate more people per capita than anywhere else in the world. Riders are not only fundraising, they’re learning from a bike saddle about the Prison Industrial Complex in ways they may never have experienced.
WHY DO IT?
We live in a city where at the farthest, one lives 10-15 miles from Orleans Parish Prison, one of the most dangerous and poorly run jail facilities in the country. Depending on where you live in that 15 mile radius, you may know countless people who have spent time inside OPP, or maybe you don’t know a single one. Most of the inmates of Angola will die there and many of them await trial or start their incarceration here in New Orleans. Nola to Angola riders invest in this project because they see the value in struggling against this system and keeping families connected. This fundraising project allows the buses to remain free for passengers (friends and family of the incarcerated), as transportation options and cost are often huge barriers for them. Rider and organizer Anneke Gronke is in her third year and came to the project after working as an investigator and seeing how prisons divorce people from their support systems. “I love the work that Cornerstone does and think that having services for incarcerated people run by those who know what it’s like is deeply important. This is a great fundraising model because it garners resources from those who have more and redistributes it to a program run by a pastor who is committed to serving his community.” Nola to Angola raised over $23,000 last year for Cornerstone, making it possible for them to add trips to new prisons and also send more buses during holidays when there is a higher demand. Regular visits from those on the outside will help ease re-entry; even for inmates who will spend the rest of their life incarcerated, the value of a visit from a parent, spouse, child or friend is incalculable.
WHO DOES IT?
Some riders are cycle enthusiasts, but most are not. Riders have been training and tuning up old bikes in preparation. Part of the appeal to the project is that Nola to Angola is a well-supported bike tour with food provided and mechanics in nearby cars to handle any problems. All the Nola to Angola organizers are volunteers who scope out the best routes, places to camp and points of interest along the way, such as environmentally devastated sites or the other prisons that pepper the landscape. Guest speakers are lined up at night to share information on the social justice work they’re doing. The ride is hours and hours of pedaling but that’s also a lot of time to talk and to ponder. No better place for a deep conversation about creating change than a long stretch of Highway 61.
WHY ON A BIKE?
Some participants do the ride every year, but this trip most are riding for their first time and it will definitely be their longest bike ride yet. What’s the value of the bike as transportation? Why not bus up, as Cornerstone does, or caravan in a chain of carpooling cars? Folks that make this mental and physical commitment are bringing a spotlight to these issues by being noticed on the road- it’s hard to miss a pack of bikes- especially when they don’t look like fancy cyclists.The group spends all day riding, camps out on the side of the road, and gets up early to do it all over again for three days in a row. It’s not easy. But that journey is as important as the end goal of funding Cornerstone. Traveling this way between New Orleans and Louisiana State Penitentiary really highlights the distance put between families. Bruce Reilly is a first year rider who knows why he’s about to spend longer than he ever has on a bicycle: “Prisons are so far away because they are businesses for their own communities; and the product they need, in bulk, is chained people. My riding is no more than an excuse to raise money to help these people stay connected with our community and raise awareness of the impacts of mass incarceration.”
Nola to Angola will send off with a press conference in front of Municipal Court at 727 S. Broad at 8 am on Friday October 17th. Speakers will include Councilmember At-Large Jason Williams and Reverend Leo Jackson. It is the biggest year yet with more than forty riders and donations continuing to roll in. You can make a contribution or learn more atwww.nolatoangola.org.
About the author: Katie Hunter-Lowrey bought her first big girl bicycle, a purple Schwinn named Rosemary, for $10 from a thrift store almost 10 years ago. She’s now an organizer for Nola to Angola, an occasional contributor to the blog Yeah You Ride! and often leads the Loose Bloomers training rides. KDHL can be found riding around New Orleans on her bike, mashing the patriarchy into the pavement and singin’ real loud.