The California Medical Facility celebrated the relaunch of its longtime bicycle donation program with a special ceremony on Wednesday.
The Bike Project, which was put on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, allows people to donate bikes to the prison, where inmates refurbish them and give them back to the community. This process will continue, now with the participation of Vacaville volunteers, but the main difference is that the program now bears the name of the man who made it all possible more than three decades ago: the late CMF Sgt. David Cueva.
Besides restarting the Bike Project, the ceremony was also a celebration of the life of Cueva, who died of cancer in 2017. Family and associates spoke of a very generous man in spirit, the bike program n’ being just a part of his legacy.
CMF recreation supervisor Jeremiah Holland was very happy to have the program back, largely because of what it offers inmates.
“For someone who is incarcerated and working in the program here, it’s a real genuine job,” he said. “It’s a job that represents an opportunity to both learn skills and provide a service.”
Cueva started the program in 1985, which has donated hundreds of bikes each year to schools, foster homes, law enforcement, nonprofit organizations, and children and families around the needed in the Vacaville, Dixon and Fairfield areas.
The program slowed at the start of the pandemic, in particular due to a lack of funding. James Cross, a CMF inmate and director of the bike program, said the project was “financially precarious” but it took an entire village to bring it back. He credited the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s factory operations team for “reaching into their pockets and (taking) the bike parts collection” and Holland for contacting contacts when the money for retail parts has run out. One of those contacts was Jeff Jerge, the owner of The Pedaler Bike Shop in El Sobrante, who donated many bikes and parts.
Cross told the reporter he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder as part of a motorcycle gang in 2004. In 2015 he was transferred to CMF and one of the first people he he met was then Deputy Chief Manager Daniel Cueva’s nephew. of the founder of the bike program.
“When the project came from outside, he wanted a trustworthy party to take care of (the program), so he appointed me to lead it,” he said. “Not only was it a pleasure to do it and I felt honored that he asked me to, but I also felt it was an obligation to do whatever it took to take it back.”
Cross said running the program has allowed him to regain a sense of himself and hopes it will do the same for other inmates.
“It’s a way of giving back and doing the right thing,” he said. “I take a lot of personal joy and find a lot of sense of myself in it. It really feels good to do something good.
Cross also said it would give recipients “the joy of a bicycle.”
Daniel Cueva, now Associate Director of Women Offender Programs and Services at CDCR, spoke at the ceremony. He remembers starting as a corrections officer at CMF at age 23 and being very nervous, but it was made easier by the possibility of seeing his uncle.
“It really meant a lot in my development to have such great mentors,” he said.
David Cueva began working as a corrections officer at CMF in 1975 and was promoted to sergeant in 1984. In 1993 he was named Officer of the Year and retired in 2003.
Young Cueva said his uncle came from an immigrant family that had basic needs like food and love but lacked toys and childhood items. David and his wife Mary P. Cueva, a longtime Vacaville Unified School District teacher, wanted to find a way to give to low-income children in the Vacaville community. As a result, they started the Bike Project.
“The Bike Project isn’t just about restoring bikes and donating them to those in need,” Daniel said. “The Bike Project aims to restore lives by helping to rehabilitate inmates who work in the program.
He recalled how his uncle, aunt Mary and cousin Leanna dressed up as Santa Claus, Mrs Claus and an elf at a giveaway around Christmas.
“He treated everyone with dignity and respect, and that’s something I bring with me today and try to emulate,” Daniel said.
The keynote speaker was Jon Grobman, the director of Paws for Life, which socializes rescue dogs with inmates. Grobman was previously incarcerated at CMF and met David upon his arrival. After completing orientation, David hired Grobman as a clerk.
Working in a small office with David, Grobman said he learned the things he was passionate about.
“Every holiday the office was decorated, but no more so than on Halloween when he turned the office into a haunted house,” he said.
Several months after being David’s clerk, Grobman became the project coordinator.
“It was really her baby and her gift to the world,” he said. “At its peak in 1999, the Bike Project refurbished, restored and refurbished 500 bicycles. It was not an easy task, but it was his focus, tenacity and dedication that made it possible.
Grobman recalls mechanics building a bike specifically for a boy with special needs and the joy he felt helping the child get his bearings and watching him giggle and giggle as he rode.
“I have never seen anything so special, and it was all down to Sgt. Cueva’s vision and generosity,” he said.
The final speakers were David’s wife, Mary, and his daughter, Leanna Cueva-Vigil. Mary said her husband was very proud to be part of CMF, but joked that even “if he was here, I doubt he would be”.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” she said.
Cueva-Vigil said her father was very humble about his job.
“He wasn’t the kind of man who would talk about his actions,” she said. “He would just go ahead and do it.”
Nonetheless, Cueva-Vigil said, “I know he’s watching and I know he’s proud too.”
Mary said the hard work was evident in the happiness the children experienced when they received their bikes.
“Seeing him walk into my classroom, you could see that the kids respected that we were caring enough to go out and get things for them,” she said.
Cueva-Vigil said her father always spoke warmly of his time at CMF and even spoke of the inmates as if they were part of the family. His belief was that “sometimes people make bad decisions, but in the end they are good”.
It’s a mantra that stuck with him.
“If these people made a bad decision and they’re landing at CMF and they’re trying to figure out a way to make it right, then you know what?” she says. “I’m not going to judge a book by its cover. If they want to help and they want to improve the community by doing that, then they’re not bad people.
The Cuevas joined Acting Deputy Chief Executive Cherita Snelling and other CDCR staff to preside over a ribbon-cutting ceremony that unveiled a new sign for the bike project hangar that read “ Volunteers of Vacaville Bike Project is. 1985 by David Cueva.
Daniel Cueva also received a scrapbook with a history of the project, including newspaper clippings and inventory lists.
Bikes can be dropped off in the fenced area under Tower 1. People requesting bikes can email Emily Haley, Community Resources Manager, at [email protected]