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By Andy Mouncey, May 5 2020 08:06AM

Breaking In

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 (very surprised smiley face)

2019 Dec-2020 Feb: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.

2020 March: Corona virus pandemic hits and prisons go into isolation. All work stops


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 28

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




Something v Nothing


Doors slam, corona virus parks a tank on the front lawn and prisons go into semi-lockdown. Staff are still coming and going and the courts are still operating albeit at a much reduced level – so it’s not total isolation but that means no guarantees keeping CV-19 at bay.


The trick is to contain infection when it does happen – and over half the UK’s 121 jails now have cases* with around 350 staff and the same number of prisoners testing positive with the death tally at 19 – and ensure those about to be released are healthy. The latter means testing – and we all know where we are on that one – and then separating the ‘confirmed healthy and ready to be released’ people from everyone else.


(* Many in the sector believe the figures are currently being under-reported a la care homes – and the actual figures are much higher).


That could well mean physically reconfiguring parts of a prison – and that means contractors on site unless you can get all creative and go for an inside job. And the stakes are high because this IS part of government strategy to relieve pressure on the prisons: 4000 people out of the 82,000 currently behind bars who are within 2 months of their end of sentence are to be released.

Assuming of course that they are healthy, have a place to be released in to and can be supported/support themselves on the outside.


To make this happen in normal times is a huge ask for many – and for the strapped-for-resources organizations in this sector whose mission it is to help.

But now?

In semi-lockdown and a rapidly shrinking economy?


(Government did start the early release scheme a couple of weeks ago – then stopped it almost immediately when it turned out that some of the wrong people had been released- and had to be recalled: successfully it turned out. As I write this 33 people have been released. 33. The cynics – or those who know our system well – may put this down to two factors: Fear of our tabloid press and a government’s seeming inability to successfully administer anything wide-ranging, life-changing and on time).


The good news from Public Health England whose job it is to advise and keep an eye on this stuff is that the various Containment measures taken by prisons has/is working to control the spread of the virus. Practically this means that those behind bars are now mostly alone and mostly locked up - in a room you probably wouldn’t want to keep your dog in for long - for even more of the time: No education programmes, job training, gym time, family visits or religious worship.

So bloody what? Is the cry from the Daily Mail-reading masses.

Well, think about it this way – because what passes for ‘Justice’ in this country can be described as this:


We lock people up in what amounts to little more than a toilet for more hours a day than we unlock them.

We deprive them of fresh air and sunlight.

We remove their autonomy – and their children if they’re a mother – and the people best placed to help them.

We keep them there long enough for them to lose their job, home and close relationships.

We release them with £46.00, nowhere to sleep that night and a criminal record that stops them getting work (to earn money to afford somewhere to live).

And we expect them to be better people for the experience.





So.

If you want to get an inkling of an idea about what people on the inside are experiencing now you should take this description and turn it up to Number 11 – and then remember that those being released are being pushed straight into a world sliding into economic recession anticipated to be even worse than 2008-9.


Now it’s also true that prison and probation management and staff are moving heaven and earth to provide a humane and compassionate experience as possible for the people in their care while wrestling with the same logistical, personnel and equipment nightmares as the NHS.


The NHS has been getting the headlines and kudos and rightly so.

But the need is as acute and is still building in the prison system – but it’s happening under the national radar. It has taken the threat of a Judicial Review from two prison reform organisations before government went public with the full range of measures it has in place and it’s future plans to safeguard those 82,000 people behind bars.


Back to the good news.

Movement of people within the prison is down to absolute minimum – this is where the biggest risk of ‘trouble’ is normally – and therefore the operation is much simpler with less moving parts (and way less stressful) to manage. As my cleaning team used to say in my swimming pool management days: ‘The water would be perfect if we could just keep the bloody people out of it!’


The result is that while the stakes are high and the risks are clearly there many staff feel in a good place with an enhanced sense of mission: Their job is operationally simpler and the containment measures are working. Success is in stark hard stats. They are doing their bit – and it’s a significant one.


The big concern is how to keep control as the restrictive measures start to lift in the wider world and movement of people starts to return to normal. Lots of people with very big brains who are paid to plan for Really Bad Shit Happening are very very worried about this…


Anyway.

‘See you on the other side’ or words to that effect was the parting shot between me and my prison contacts. I mean, my stuff www.runforyourlife.org.uk had been all about working intensively and intimately with a group of people for an extended period of time – not exactly consistent with the wonderfully woolly concept of ‘social distancing.’

So prospects of future work?

None. At. All.


I downed tools and raged silently at the sick humor of the forces of darkness who clearly thought it was not enough to make me go through 7 years of trying to get my first contracted work – so they threw in an ALL STOP in the form of a global pandemic just to f*** with me some more.

B*stards.


So in the last seven weeks I’ve been forced to experience some of what normal usually is for the men I’ve been working with on the inside:

Stay in your box.

Come out for exercise and essential items only.

And your release date is some way off and could change depending…


Except it became soberly clear very quickly that what I thought was ‘enduring hardship’ was actually no more than middle class inconvenience.


As my appreciation of the real situation on the inside became clearer, ‘See you on the other side’ began increasingly to sound like a cop-out – especially when I started to ask the right questions of myself instead of settling for lazy assertions.

So ‘how could I still deliver some of my stuff within the current restrictions?’ replaced ‘I can’t deliver my stuff now (sigh).’


All of which rather forced me to come up with Something rather than settle for Nothing.

It’s not been a swift process – not least because I’ve had to settle my own shit down first - and it’s fair to say that I’ve been round the houses a few times. Meanwhile government have been increasingly clear that they desperately need help in the form of Something Else from the sector – because Containment is only part of the solution and containment is all they’ve really got.



LATEST: On May 1st Andy formally submitted his ‘Frontline Lifeline’ support package proposal to Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service. Contact him directly and find out more [email protected]




Sources & Further Reading

Clinks overview of the sector and CV-19


Public Health England assessment of Containment & other government strategies in prisons


Judicial Review response


Unlocking Potential on a new normal in the Justice sector post-pandemic


Government space creating measures for prison population


Early release of prisoners latest



By Andy Mouncey, Apr 24 2020 07:30AM

No Experts Here

While it would seem that experts are very much back in fashion - according to government anyway – I on the other hand, do not profess to be in any anyway expert on how to get through a pandemic:

When household income is reduced to a trickle.

Daily wholesome educational activity for the kids is suddenly your bag.

And the muppets are stockpiling for the end of the world.


However, if I were to share any nuggets from Family Mouncey’s last few weeks it would be these:


Start Of Day

Have a start of day routine and stick to it mercilessly – unless of course you agree with your Significant Other that you bother deserve a lie-in. Those of you who train and compete will already know that the only slot in a day that you can totally control is first thing in the morning before the rest of the house awakes. And that prep for the Start Of Day starts the previous evening. Control your start of day and you have a fighting chance of being there at the end more or less intact.


Simple, Sandbags & Siestas

Big picture for our household routine is that we do what we need to do in the morning – that’s homestudy for you, kiddies – so we can do what we want to do in the afternoon. Other essentials are Go Outside Together and Eat Together – and as long as Dad has at least thrown his sandbags around that’s basically it: anything else is a bonus. Next up is that we go all Mediterranean and go for an afternoon siesta…


Ration Your News

There’s a lot of stuff going on – and while there are heartwarming stories in there most of it is Really Bad Shit and most of the Really Bad Shit is shit we can’t control. So take the headlines, be warmed by the generosity and bravery and get up to date with what you need from your local area. Then stop. Come back to it at the other end of the day but in between you focus on your stuff that you control and the people closest to you.


Energy Beans

You have a finite supply – and even if you think you are doing just fine it’s likely that you will be spending more mental and emotional energy at an unconscious level: Managing your mood and thinking clearly under pressure without actually being aware that you’re doing so. All that takes energy – and if you’re in a primary care role even more so because it’s all give-give-give. You need your physical exercise to recharge and regain perspective by putting time and space between you and your duties. It may be that you only have energy for a gentle easy effort. Take it. Or you may be fired up to the max and can (and need to) put yourself in a box in a short hard training session. Accept what is and use it on that given day.


Phone Your Friends

Now is the time for meaningful exchange so stop emailing and texting and do more listening and talking. I mean, you have the time don’t you?


Pace For The Long Haul

This thing ain’t started for us yet in the UK. Anyone who can read mathematical models can see that the figures are only going one way. We are just warming up and are likely to be in this for way longer than some of our politicians would like us to believe. Keep it simple, take it day by day and commit to finding ways to enjoy more of the process of this thing together over time. You don’t have to have all the answers yet: Progress Not Perfection.



By Andy Mouncey, Mar 27 2020 12:32PM

Breaking In

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)

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 28

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




Doors Slam Shut

Even before Mother Earth decided to put us all on the naughty step it was all starting to look very bleak for the future of my prison work at HMP Wymott.


Buoyed by the success of the three programs I figured my stock was on the rise. I had 24 carot leverage and a reputation for making cool shit happen. I figured I'd earned my stripes in their world and now it was their turn: I mean – how could they not take this forward??


I was acutely aware of the need to bridge from end of program to normal life for my graduates…Because here's what happens to people in prison after a transformational experience:

Expectations of themselves are raised.

Their expectations of others are raised.


Unless that second expectation is met the disillusion with people/'the system' is verging on catastrophic and the crash back down puts the participants in a worse place than when they started – the 'I knew it was all too good to be true'/ Give hope then snatch it away scenario.


It’s therefore vital that enough of the right staff take it on and key rituals, practice and principles of my stuff are incorporated into normal operational procedures.


My funding didn't stretch to this so I'd been trying informally to create a bridge of sorts. Post third program I tried again on my own time and expense:

‘Could I…?' No.

‘May I…?' No.

‘I'd like to…?' No.

WTF??


Doors slammed shut one after the other – and while the reasons I were given were utterly plausible it didn't take long for me to come up with my own sinister conspiracy theory:


I'd pissed too many people off by showing them up doing my cool shit in their house and now the formal commitment was over they were giving me the finger.


I couldn't get hold of my advocates on the inside to check my conspiracy theory – they were fire-fighting normal prison chaos – so my theory got even more sinister with me doing world-class Despondency:


What The [email protected]**£!!! Do I Need To Do Here? Gouge my eyes out with a friggin' spoon??


If three successful programs were not going to get me through the door on a longer term basis I was genuinely at a loss to know what on earth was.


Through all this Mother Earth was warming us up for Some Really Bad Shit – but as the UK government clearly wasn't paying attention why the heck should we? Fortunately there were those in this sector who were paying attention and could make a good stab at where this could go.

Then Shit Got Real and suddenly my angst just didn't feel that important anymore.


Good practice and regulation scrambled to keep pace as events unfolded around the world and the statistics told their own shocking story. Still it seemed enough people in this country were hell-bent on doing Oblivion to the unfolding bigger picture – and in prison the unfolding bigger picture is, well…https://www.workwithoffenders.co.uk/news/news_article/104304


Think of prisons as the land-based version of cruise ships: If infection gets in then it's pretty much curtains for everyone else.

Except you can quarantine a ship out at sea.

And we're only talking about a few hundred people at a time.


Here in the UK the court system was/is still operating as are family visits to prisons.

There are very good reasons for both of these but less so when it comes to stopping a pandemic.

Staff are also travelling to work and home, all of which means people are coming and going - and as we all now know it's movement and proximity of PEOPLE that is the problem.

There are 90,000 people in our prisons. Plus families. Plus staff.

And we've all seen the mathematical infection models…


Then more and more staff were having to stay away from work and finally the prison system got its place in the headlines as the two nuclear options went on the table:

https://www.politicshome.com/news/article/bob-neill-mp-we-must-help-our-prisons-in-the-fight-against-coronavirus


1. Release people from prison who are elderly and serving short sentences

2. Draft people into prison to fill the gaps left by absent staff


Both have massive implications but are also just two more questions to add to our growing ‘Big Shit We Have Never Really Contemplated' list.


I've told Wymott I'd be up for Number 2.

Mrs Mouncey is not exactly happy about that and less so as the days go by and we learn more about what's at stake here. I'm not exactly jumping for joy either but if over 400,000 people can volunteer for the NHS…


By Andy Mouncey, Mar 6 2020 10:47AM

Breaking In

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)

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 28

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



A Glimpse Of The Real Inside

The third of three stints at HMP Wymott Theraputic Community delivering my 24 hour-2.5 day program.


Once again there has been a rush for places I'm told, but this time prison reality had hit hard the week before I'm due to start and we’re all still riding the waves.


There was a heavy influx of spice* into the prison – a number of men on the TC were caught in possession and the result is that everyone has been on lockdown/basic regime.


(*Spice is a addictive man-made psychoactive substance that is many times more potent than the plant-based equivalent marijuana. Effects are intense hallucinations, extreme anxiety, agitation and violence with severe organ damage and even death as a consequence. It's low cost, low bulk and increasingly easy to get hold of – part of the reason why it’s appealing to people in prison).


Now you may think that men on a drug rehabilitation unit are (a) pretty secure from such an influx and (b) pretty immune from the temptation to use. Well, as I'm learning – it ain't that simple… because (a) there are ways of getting stuff in (b) relapse is a normal part of rehabilitation. (‘Just Say No’ as a solution is actually a naïve myth trumpeted by the misinformed and self-righteous: Successful rehabilitation from drug dependency is rarely if ever a matter of free will alone).


The result for me is that those on the list to take part who were caught in possession have been removed – and this includes those graduates from my previous ‘24s who were due to help me this time.

So I'm down on my expected numbers.

It also means that the Number 1 topic of conversation I'm greeted with from both staff and men is the fun and games last week – and the men who are with me and were not involved are seriously pissed that they have paid a price for the action of others. While this is not unusual in a prison it does mean that the pre-start buzz of the last program is conspicuous by its absence. My graduate mentors are experiencing a combination of frustration-resignation, disappointment in their peers and embarrassment on my behalf.

There's not much I can say so I keep my mouth shut and just listen.


The Stories Start

The defining difference this time for me was the number of men who spoke starkly and movingly about their personal situation both to me and the group. I have made it a rule never to ask, but if it comes out I will listen. Now this did not happen on the first two programs but this time it happened in spades. Part of the reason was that I changed some of the content which took us in a different direction, and part of it was well, clearly the right time and place for some of the men to do so.

I heard some stuff, for damn sure.


‘But how on earth do you process that? asked Mrs Mouncey later when I recounted one of the horrific ‘didn't really have a chance from childhood/attempts to take own life tales.

Short answer is that I don't think I do – or can (yet?).


This stuff is so far removed from my experience that although I can understand the words used in the telling, I can't bridge emotionally across to it.

I have no concept or frame of reference – so I can't make it mean anything to me therefore I don't (can't?) internalize it.

As a self-care strategy it seems to be effective even though I'm not running it consciously.

And clearly it's working as what I'm hearing is not keeping me up at night.

At least that's what I think is happening…


‘But what do you do? asks Charlotte.

The only thing I can: Full Body Compassionate Listening.


The Bollocks Of Veganism

Now I'm well aware that a recent court case judgment has put ‘ethical veganism in the ‘philosophical belief bracket – whatever that means.

What veganism means in prison is somewhat different – and the penny dropped for me on this while observing two of my lads playing the ‘But I'm a vegan! card over 2.5 revealing days.


Now I have no idea if my model is The Truth but it's based on what I saw and heard and I put it to you that it's at least plausible:

Veganism in prison is just an attention-seeking strategy and an attempt to exercise personal choice in an environment in which choice is typically absent.


There – I've said it.

Evidence:

If you play the vegan card the prison will cater for you.

You are listened to.

You get special options.

You get a box of vegan food every week that's YOURS TO KEEP.

And the contents of that box are more attractive and flavorsome that much of the normal menu.


(What's also normal is that you will have your own food stash back in your cell – or room as it's called on the TC – except the contents of that stash probably wouldn't get past the Vegan Police).



So veganism on the inside is bollocks.

But would I play that card?

Damn f**kin right I would!


In A Nutshell

Way back in December when I started I set my PE Lead (PEL) and Number One Advocate some homework:

Translate some of my stuff into the language and concepts of prison life and the rehabilitation process.

PEL duly reported in and said he'd actually cracked this by the second course but in all the excitement had parked it till now.

So we tested it on the lads after breakfast on the final day.


Now I had no idea what was coming but we had a healthy dollop of trust between us by now and I was clearly getting into giddy mode at the prospect of actually completing this third and final program.

PEL produced a large scroll of rolled paper that he un-rolled to reveal a large hand-drawn colored representation of…

My London-Paris challenge?


What followed was an utterly fascinating insight into how different people make the same stuff work for different reasons. I'm not going to recount it here – but we will be developing it for future workshops. The clincher came right at the end and PEL became visibly moved.

What follows are not PELs exact words but my paraphrase as close as possible to what I recall and not the real names:


'It's easy to label and quite often those labels are based on ignorance. We've all spent time together and really got to know each other. It's been challenging – some of you have struggled – but we've all got there and we're all better for it.

At the start it was easy for me to see you as your labels – he points to each of the lads in turn:

'Addict.

Thief.

Robber.

Murderer…

Black and white – two dimensional – just a number in a box.


Here's what I see now – a pause, a breath and he points to each in turn again:

'Rob.

Dan.

Jeff.

Paul…


He goes round each one pointing, looking them in the eye and saying their name.

Utter silence.

You could hear a pin drop.

I have a lump in my throat and I suspect I'm not the only one.


A slow count to five in my head and then:

‘F**kin hell… follow that! I know - let's go do a triathlon!


By Andy Mouncey, Feb 14 2020 01:55PM

Breaking In

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)

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 28

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




Deeper In

The second time at HMP Wymott Theraputic Community delivering my 24 hour-2.5 day program.


Some things are the same and some are very different. Here's the different:

I have 3 members of staff taking full part alongside the 8 men, and I have two of my Graduates from the first December group with me a peer mentors.


Oh yeah – and expectations all round are higher and more people are watching. Some of the watchers are excited and some are nervous and even fearful: Drawbridges are going up and barriers are coming down – not everyone likes to feel the wind of change on their cheek…

Some headlines:


Cutting It Fine

I belated realize we’ve tipped into zealot territory on the Eating For Health & Energy front this time and it's about to repeat on us. On Day 1 with the first group we'd deliberately fed ‘em the usual carb, sugar heavy processed meat prison scoff – then switched to way more healthy options for Day 2 & 3 as we wanted to get evidence of the effect of the contrast. Sure enough folks complained of nausea and sickness on Day 1 and left much of it: Day 2 & 3 it all got eaten and folks were aching in most places but smiling – mostly.

Well no s**t, Sherlock.


This time we've gone for healthy options from the start.

But right now in front of me slumped on the corridor floor on the afternoon of Day 2, J is rapidly winding himself up to a full ballistic toddler tantrum at the prospect of (just) salad sandwiches and fruit for tea.


Mistake No 1: I tell him to focus on the task now – we do tea later.

(No – can't do that ‘cos Tea is way more important than Task).

Mistake No 2: I ain't budging and I have no time for this toddler tantrum boll**ks.

(I need to make time for this TT boll**ks ‘cos it's actually a cry for help from someone in a world where gratification through food is one of the few things to look forward to – and right now I'm screwing with his reward system).


The big picture is of course that we've been working them all hard and for way longer than they're used to while taking them on a physical-mental-emotional roller coaster. All that takes energy and the simple truth is that they are all on their chinstraps and they all need more calories. I don't clock this till later – wrapped up as I am in my own pissing contest with J – but another member of staff with me does and swiftly gets Catering to bulk up the tea on offer.


Then one bright spark has another brainwave and a toaster with copious supplies of sliced bread and jam mysteriously appears as well.

Peace is restored.


Replaying it all in the car on the way home that night I belated realize it's a perfect replica of me in depleted state post big training run stumbling incoherently around the kitchen in a frenzied search for ready calories while the rest of the family run for cover.

Muppet.

But it's one of the biggest lessons of this second round: The consistently healthy menu and copious amounts of water really work – we just need way more of it!



'…Take The T-Shirt & Piss Off!'

Midway through Day 2 and we’re checking in with them re Reality v Expectations:

What are you thinking?

How are you feeling?

And your expectations for the gym triathlon contest tomorrow?

We go round the group and everyone speaks out loud while I transcribe what I hear:


I did better than I thought – I feel better in myself.

I've enjoyed the team spirit

I haven't spit my dummy out and I'm pleased about that.'

I want to get it done. I'm sore but I'm further than I thought. I thought I'd quit – I haven't.

I'm more motivated.

Everyone's won. Everyone will do it.

Great to see everyone grow in confidence.

I'm really tired – but I've done better than I thought. My goal for the race is sub 25minutes.

I've enjoyed seeing everyone stick with it.

I've noticed how much you've supported each other. Be proud! (Staff)

I've noticed the way we are all cheering each other on whether we are staff or men. It's nice to get to know you all better and great to see you support the strugglers (Staff).


Finally M in broad Scouse chips in with:

‘I thought it'd be easy and one big laugh and I'd get my T shirt and f***-off!

Peals of laughter at that one – then he speaks from the heart:

It's been stressful. I've had to get serious – I didn't think it'd be this hard.'


Lifting Up v Bringing Down

This group arrived fired up. That's in direct contrast to the first group who arrived nervous and somewhat subdued – as you would when you have no real clue what you've been signed up for except 10 hours – 10 hours!! - in the company of some orange-clad idiot. So I spent most of the first day bring them along and lifting them up.


The difference this time is that word is well and truly out and everyone can see and hear the transformation in those first eight men. I've seen and heard it myself: I went back in over Xmas and again a couple of weeks later to be repeatedly bombarded with two questions:

When's the next one?

Can I sign up?


So this second group arrived with the force of a small hurricane. That has meant harnessing the force in the desired direction of travel and making sure they don't blow out by lunchtime on the first day.

Hey – it's a nice problem to have!



Fiddling With The Furniture

We introduced a new element on the first two days: Eating For Health & Energy – ‘cos typically they don't. They eat – as it's been described to me – like a three year old and/or Fear Of Missing Out. This is a new direction for Catering as well but they're up for it and I've been impressed by the folks I've worked with from that team so far.

So we've come up with a first punt on this.


A key objective being to get clarity on what the barriers are for the men on this, what their areas of interest are on the topic and what we can do provision-wise within the confines of a prison system.

Which basically means asking them questions, having the courtesy to listen to the answers and acting on the information contained therein.

We did all that and they clearly got pissed off as all my answers started with the same two words:

‘It depends…'

Just me indulging myself by adopting full Coaching Mode and throwing it all back when they were looking for easy answers.

Welcome again to my world, boys!


Much later something was still bothering me about the session – something wasn't right but what was it? Then at 3am the following morning the Ideas Fairy came calling:

Ahhhhhhh…..


It was all the bullshit questions they were asking:

How much protein should I eat?

Can I get more protein?

What about sports drinks?

Is soya milk better than normal milk?

I'm intolerant this / intolerant that – why can't I get my special foods?

I'm a vegan…

I'm training every day and (guess what?) I need more protein…


In other words the problems/barriers weren't with them they were with

Other people.

The system.

The limited menu.

Right…..


The solution – to borrow from an often-derided former Prime Minister:

Education.

Education.

Education.

And busting a whole load of food myths into the bargain.


But first they needed to wake up and I need to get something off my chest.

One of the advantages of running your own show is that you can drive a bus through a planned session and no-one will object. So I strapped in and drove in full crash-test mode:


‘There was something bothering me about the session yesterday and it's taken me a while to figure it out but I've figured it out and here it is. Now, just to make sure you're paying attention and get the message I'm going to be brutal and use simple colorful language. I'm aware that this is not how you do things here normally'– a nod to the Theraputic Community staff who I figure are probably having kittens about now – ‘but you need to really get this s**t in language you understand so here goes.'

(I start drawing helpful big diagram on the flipchart around a smiley face)


‘Our body needs 3 things to function:

Fizz (physical activity)

Water

Breakfast

Other stuff is relevant but I'm keeping it simple and just using these three.'

(I nod and look ‘em all in the eye and make sure I get nods in return. It's gone very quiet…)


‘Our mind needs 3 things:

Purpose

Challenge

Team-ship

Stuff that you’ve all been experiencing for the last 2 days to the max – so much so that you'd all now miss ‘em if they weren't there – right?'

(Nodding)


‘Right. So all that boll**ks about protein and soya milk and sports drinks yesterday…

YOU'RE JUST FIDDLING WITH THE FURNITURE WHILE THE BLOODY HOUSE BURNS DOWN!'


(Pause for dramatic effect. I'm quite pleased with my play on the 're-arranging deckchairs-sinking ship' analogy – I just figure my version is more relatable to my audience).


'Think about it this way: You go to R ‘– I nod to the staff member from Catering team –‘ and ask the sports drink question and R will say…' (I throw R the ball, point to ‘water' on the chart and pray he catches it)

'Are you drinking water? No? Come back to me when you are.'

'Or you ask R how much water do I need to drink and R will say…'

'More than you are doing right now!'


It's still deathly quiet but I can see I have them all which is great ‘cos I'm in full flow now.

'You ask R the protein question and R will say…'

'Are you eating breakfast? No? Come back to me when you are and we'll talk about protein.'


Do the stuff you need to do first – breakfast, water, fizz – and then you earn the right to do the stuff you want to do. ‘Cos if you don't you're just fiddling around the edges making excuses WHILE YOUR F**KIN' HOUSE BURNS DOWN AROUND YOU!!!!'


Big breath. No-one punches me. No-one walks out. Everyone's still looking.


‘Right. Rant over. Let's go out and f**kin'play.'



Gatehouse Goodbye

It's all over and I'm heading out through the main gate and I check in my credentials with the duty staff.

'Oh - you're the guy who's been doing that fitness program aren't you…we just had R come through here raving about it.'

A pause.

'Is it compulsory?'

I can't resist an evil grin:

'Not yet!'



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