Unusual skateboard project helps both inmates and kids

Sixteen inmates at Avenal State Prison are turning old, rescued, thrashed skateboards into works of art that will be auctioned off to benefit a nonprofit that provides new skateboarding equipment to kids who may otherwise not have access.

Rodney Rodriguez of Fresno Skateboard Salvage Inc. collects the old skateboards and art supplies from donors.

Rodriguez said his nonprofit has helped more than 600 children receive a new skateboard and safety equipment. He said he focuses on helping kids in small towns that have a skate park.

He said he has been organizing skateboards-for-art for several years as a fundraiser, netting about $1,800 the first time and more than $5,000 in his most recent auction.

This is the first year he’s taken the project into a prison. The auction about 40 skateboards painted by Avenal inmates is planned for November (the date hasn’t been set yet) at Gazebo Gardens in Fresno.

“I thought it would do a few things, to give the guys in here a purpose, to see their art go to work in a way like that,” Rodriguez said. “It would have a benefit to the community at large after that.”

Lt. Michael Tuntakit, the Avenal prison’s information officer, said officials are seeing Rodriguez’s vision come true. And several inmates agreed.

“I was happy to be part of this, because for so long, I’ve been selfish and self-centered, and always taking and receiving, but never giving back,” inmate Jimmy Tran said. “I finally found the chance to give back. I hopped on it.

“To help someone other than myself, it means a lot to me, because when I think back when I was young if someone was there to give me a positive outlook, where would I be? If I can stop someone from following the same path I have, that makes the world a lot better.”

Inmate Guillermo Carerra was working on the skateboard he themed “Anger Management.” It features “The Hulk” character from comic books and movies.

“I did this because most people think that he’s nothing but a monster, but what I like about him is that inside he’s a human being,” Carerra said.

“We all have anger issues, and it’s up to us how to control it.”

Related stories from Fresno Bee