Freedom Wheelin’

Troubled Israeli youths get back on track by going off road
by Staff, Utne Reader
November-December 2011
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Shimon Schocken used to mountain-bike past a juvenile correctional facility in Israel, says Dirt Rag (July 1, 2011), and wonder “What’s going on behind those barbed wires?” One day he stopped in and offered to take the boys for a ride. He envisioned a different path to delinquent recovery—a dusty, rocky, uphill trail traversed on the saddle of a mountain bike. And the warden agreed.  

For five years now, Schocken, a computer science professor from Ra’anana, Israel, has pulled 10 young people out of the facility every Tuesday to bike on remote country trails. Preaching love and empathy, he says, “It’s not a matter of getting a lecture. We don’t discipline them.” The delinquents, ages 16 to 20, are largely immigrants from Russia and North Africa, for whom the rides represent their first experience with Israel’s beautiful deserts and mountains.  

Mountain biking is Israel’s national pastime, which helped Shocken easily raise donations for initial capital, as well as the $15,000-a-year operating costs. Participants have a low rate of recidivism. Of 50 released participants, Shocken says, “only 5 of them went back to jail, which is extremely good. Normally, 50 percent will end up back in jail within a year.”

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