A solitary prison near Sao Paulo, Brazil has instituted a pedal-power initiative in exchange for reduced inmate sentences. Prisoners are given the opportunity to participate in a program where for every 16 hours they pedal on a stationary bike their sentence is reduced by one full day, with no maximum on how many hours they can pedal. The stationary bikes are hooked up to batteries which store the energy and later used to power street lights in a local plaza.
Part of me cringes at the hints of exploitation linked to prison labor, but more so I’m excited at the possibilities of prisoners contributing to the greater good while also reaping all the benefits most of us gain from riding, whether that be physical or mental. Maybe the prison will turn out more professional cyclists than even more devious criminals, or at least the prisoners will come out healthier than when they went in if they’re cycling 16 hours in exchange for one day. That would be change. As one program rider put it,
While he’s pedaling, “I think about my imprisonment, about my freedom, my wife, my kids,” he said.