By Andy Mouncey, Apr 1 2021 11:54AM
This work at HMP/YOI Brinsford is funded by HM Prison & Probation Service through Clinks Covid19 Winter Support Grant Programme.
We’ve just set a bomb off.
Or opened a sack of boiling feral tomcats and released them into a confined space.
Take your pick.
That this is part of the plan is no comfort to me at all – it’s just that no plan survives first contact with reality and in this case reality has smacked me in the kisser as well.
One week later and it’s Day 3 & 4 at HMP Brinsford and the plan said we grow the first group of 4 and add another 6-8. So we took nominations and made final selections and brought a new 8 to meet our original 4…our original 4 all of whom if not exactly on the same page as me with this work are at least looking at the same book – whereas it looks and sounds like our new 8 would take those pages make a tube out of ‘em and use that to smoke the contents of a teabag.
It actually started well because we started at pace with some fizz outside (physical activity) that had them moving and doing and grunting and gasping and grinning. But as soon as I loosened the leash and we moved onto some of the essential head stuff the cohesion and compliance slipped.
I’d positioned our original 4 as informal mentors to the new lads – we’ll be looking to you to look after ‘em - but they weren’t stepping up and I watched in growing despair as peer pressure/expectations worked its insidious sabotage into our carefully constructed group dynamics from last week.
Somehow we vaguely kept it on track-ish through the morning but it was guerrilla warfare the whole way. My staff support G had a face like thunder and was clearly plotting ritualistic slaughter as retribution. You could say he had cause: Many of these lads had asked – politely and repeatedly he’d told me – to join us. And he’d done the grunt work for them so it could happen.
So he was pissed.
I’d lost it twice through the morning and said things I just shouldn’t have said.
That I knew it right away, did an internal cringe and did my best to salvage was of no comfort: I’d f**ked up and that was bad.
So much for being cool under fire then.
This Is Not The Way.
Lunchtime was an Emergency Summit: We had a frank exchange and changed some stuff. And thank goodness it worked: By the end of the day we finished with the same number of lads that we’d started with – and retaining is a big win with this stuff – and we were all in a better place than we were a few hours earlier.
And we knew that ‘cos we’d checked and asked.
‘Must’ve been quite a day though because even after a chance to decompress during my two and a quarter hour drive home, Mrs Mouncey later informed me that Husband returned wearing a nice shade of Haunted and Hunted.
Which she normally sees at the end of a particularly traumatic 100 mile race.
Pants & Pockets
Hands are typically carried one of two places: Down the front of pants or in the pockets. This applies even when trying The Floor Is Lava for the first time (see below). If pockets it’s probably not to play with personal parts but to facilitate…
All but two of my 12 vape and most of them seem compelled to partake almost unconsciously on average every 77 seconds. They’ve all mastered the Reach & Draw action to the point that it’s almost unseen by the casual observer. Unfortunately (for them) that doesn’t apply to the smoke. Now we did have this with our first 4 but to nowhere near this level – it’s like there’s some sort of herd mechanism accelerant at work.
I’ve chosen to give them the chance to manage it by having periodic breaks – I got them down to 4mins from a starting ask of 15 (go me) - making a written agreement with me (they sign) and then burpees in front of the group when they break it.
Except they’ve all given the finger to that and just giggle and take the burpees and the point-scoring among their peers that comes with it.
It’s an absolute bastard nightmare and a source of total and utter sabotage to the work.
One of the staff remarked to me: ‘If this was a few years ago they’d be on cigarettes and that would be way worse.’ Except I don’t buy that because there’s more faff factor with a fag and a lighter and part of the problem with vaping is it’s too damn easy to do: One item and one action.
Almost as if it were designed that way…
I’m not generally given to violent urges but this makes me want to scream and smash things. I figure there’s got to be some rules about this somewhere but I’m f**ked if I can figure out what they are.
Most are preoccupied with Time:
What time is it?
What time will it finish?
What time is lunch?
Now logically I know that at least part of the reason for this is that their lives are normally driven by structure and requirements to be escorted to a certain place for a certain time. And Certainty is a currency in here: The familiarity of something happening at a certain time is something to grab on to.
But I’m like:
You have other places to be at the moment?
Other more pressing engagements?
A packed social calendar?
My self-indulgent verging on incredulous monologue rarely gets more than an embarrassed shrug. My Level Two repost then kicks in:
‘It’s time to be here with me and everyone else enjoying this thing right here right now: That’s what time it is.’
‘Fairly sure that’s not the response they’re looking for either.
The Floor Is Lava
Is a raging hit with a 5 star review.
We set up an inside course, an outside course, did team and solo challenges and everyone threw themselves into it and even had hands out of pockets by their second lap.
I thanked all gods great and small that I’d perfected my TFIL methodologies with our boys as part of lockdown PE – so I wasn’t short of ideas.
Nobody broke anything either – utterly remarkable: ‘You ever seen a pocket rhinoceros do TFIL?
Everyone Gives A Shit
There were moments that afternoon when we were given a glimpse of the real inside.
Guerrilla warfare went on pause and the real stuff came out.
I’d wanted to test some of the headlines about life inside during lockdown and to check our Big 4 issues from last week and so had been building up to questions along the lines of:
What do you do all day if you’re in cell for 22-23 hours?*
(Watch TV, use the phone, write letters**)
How do you cope?
(Get my head down, get on with it – it’s not that bad***)
Which brought us round to those people who choose to cope by fronting it out – the ‘I Don’t Give A Sh**’ brigade – not just during lockdown but in prison in general.
And suddenly right there all my 12 were on the same page – their replies showing maturity beyond their years and the hurt of experience:
‘That’s bollocks: Everyone hurts – everyone gives a sh**’
It took me a few days reflection to realise that I’d been wrestling with my own inner conflict that day too – and the nature of my day was therefore at least in part due to bits of my inside popping up on my outside.
Without knowing any more detail than I know already through my work, I know that being in prison during a pandemic is – for want of a better phrase - a pretty shitty experience.
And it’s still going on for my 12 and it ain’t over either.
So I just wanted to be kind.
To cut ‘em some slack.
Because everybody hurts.
*A handful of my group were
**This is less common that you might think as many struggle to read and write fluently
***Which begs the question ‘Compared to what?’
Timeline RFYL CIC
So you think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in.
This is what it takes for a new social enterprise with One Big Idea to get going in our Justice sector – as lived by Andy Mouncey of Run For Your Life CIC www.runforyourlife.org.uk
Timeline To Date
2012 First invitation to a Category C prison. Project pulled pre-start
2013 First short pilot delivered (unpaid) at a Cat D prison
2014-16 More testing – more pilots – still no ££
2016 RFYL Conception. Doors open–doors close-funding bids/rejected
2017 RFYL Community Interest Company formed. Doors open-close/bids (sad face)
2018 Doors open–close/bids etc: Getting boring now. Still no ££
2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid)
2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes
2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.
2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown
2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut
2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP Brinsford
Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 37
Funding Bids Successful: 1
Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4
Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2
Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1