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By Andy Mouncey, Jul 17 2020 03:56PM

The story so far

Frontline Lifeline is a Covid-19 support package for prison governors, staff, men and women serving sentences and their families.

Our contribution to the mission of rehabilitation is to create communities of mutual support on the inside that move on and become a force for good on the outside.

We use coaching, training and mentoring to help these people take charge of their physical health, think clearly under pressure and manage their mood in a complex, changing, challenging environment.

This work stopped in March as prisons entered lockdown and we’ve been unable so far to get invitations and funding to re-start our work with those serving time.

Four months on and we find ourselves supporting prison governors instead.

How on earth did that happen?

Like this…

Locked down and locked out.


It took 7 years for me to transition from first contact with the criminal justice system – an invitation to work with an education partner in a prison that ultimately came to naught – to first paid contracted program work at HMP Wymott Theraputic Community.

We were in the throes of bridging from that first work https://www.bigandscaryrunning.com/blog/4584755693/A-Glimpse-Of-The-Real-Inside/11437358 to next when Covid-19 hit and everything stopped.

If the implications weren’t so serious I would have laughed hysterically just to stop myself gouging my eyes out with a spoon in despair. This work was never supposed to be a walk in the park – but, really??

Everyday since then I’ve thought about the 33 men and 4 staff who were on my program and in my care.

They say you shouldn’t get emotionally involved – ha!

How are you supposed to connect with people if you’re just pretending?

I have self-care strategies so I can give a sh** and stay sane. And they work – mostly…

I was still in contact with senior staff and I could read the reports and press clearly enough: Infection rates were being controlled but those of us who walk in this world with our eyes open knew that the physical, mental and emotional cost was high and rising even if hard data to back that up was hard to come by.

I needed to be in there.

I wanted to be in there.

Getting the green light to do so was proving a bitch.

I tried – really, I tried https://www.bigandscaryrunning.com/blog/4584755693/This-Is-Not-The-Way*/11453960


Needing an outlet for my angst above and beyond hard physical training sessions that produced a temporary respite – otherwise known as Self-Care Strategy Number 7a - I targeted Chris from Run For Your Life’s informal advisory group.

Chris is a former trouble-shooter for a major global oil company - so he’s been around the block a few times. Conversation turned from Process to People and Culture: We both knew (‘cos we’d done it) that if you’re serious about changing a culture you can start at the chalk face – that’s the work I’d done at HMP Wymott pre-lockdown – then you go to the top of the food chain with the senior role models and then you meet in the middle with the staff.

I could also see that there was a ton of support going in to people isolated and serving sentences and to a lesser extent frontline staff.

But who was supporting the people coordinating the support?

Who was looking after the governors?

Ironically I’d found it easier to reach the prison governors I knew during lockdown in part because their operations on-site were simpler – less people/moving - and they had way less meetings to attend.

So if I called they’d answer the phone.

Apart from being an unexpected bonus this meant I could check what was really happening on the ground – as opposed to what was being reported in the press – be clear from them what was coming next and do a needs analysis by stealth.

Governors were also isolated – much of their networking and professional development had stopped – and the mission was now way different and the stakes even higher.

Different times need different measures and I’d made a career out of doing stuff differently. I’d also spent two decades doing corporate coaching in one form or other.

I figured I had the mindset and the skillset and I knew where the need was.

I also had some funding from our corporate sponsor.

I needed help – that would be Chris – and I needed a start point.

I went with my favorite from The Idiots’ Guide To Coaching:

‘If you need to make a breakthrough but you don’t know how to start just do the opposite to the historical norm and the pieces of the solution will present themselves.’

The initial advocate group of 3 has now grown so we are about to enter the second phase of this work. It has been a big shift and one that was in no way planned – but it means we can continue to actively contribute rather than cheering from the sidelines.

By Andy Mouncey, Jun 19 2020 08:02AM

(*With apologies to those of you that have yet to find Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian on Disney+ )

So Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) said ‘No’.

In fairness what I actually got back was along the lines of ‘ We know you’ll be very disappointed and it was a very difficult decision with a high standard of bids but we only had £300k and we received 100 applications in 4 weeks…’

Can’t say it’s unfamiliar territory for me but this one stung:

F**k it.

I self-indulgently swung between rage and resignation for a short time - with the odd dose of powerlessness thrown in for good measure. I’d worked bloody hard on this one to reposition my stuff and come up with something that could work, would work and that no-one else could do.

I’d consulted extensively and tested repeatedly.

I’d had to really fight to create some clear headspace among the homeschooling and family stuff so I could think clearly and get this right.

And I was acutely aware that people I knew on the frontline were either locked in boxes and going quietly mad or looking after people locked in boxes going quietly mad.

No end in sight and government were actually building more boxes https://insidetime.org/first-look-at-temporary-cells/

I wanted to be in there.

F**k it, I needed to be in there.

But the front door remained shut.

This Is Not The Way.

It clearly wasn’t the way because if there was one trend that has been constant for me in 7 years of trying to break into the criminal justice system it has been that formal channels – the front door method - have remained closed.

So in the big scheme of things this was just the latest example of that.

It’s just that this time I’d read the tea leaves and chosen to believe that they actually DID want different and innovative and effective.

‘Cos extraordinary times really do need extraordinary measures, right?

And I’d earned my stripes for FFS.

But as one of my contacts remarked to me this week:

‘It’s nothing personal Andy - The Service is just not that good at procuring specialists who work in ways we don’t recognize.’

So I took one of the bits of my Frontline Lifeline package and ran with it anyway.

I’d proposed ways that I would support four groups of people:

People serving sentences

Families of people serving sentences

Prison staff

Prison governors

Now I knew the first group had been a popular target for many providers who answered the call for what was essentially Distraction Therapy. Except as one senior member of a prison management team told me: ‘We’ve actually been inundated with material for the men which is great except for one thing – the range has been huge: Everything from a doctoral thesis standard to a coloring book. ‘Much of it actually useless. Now I know your stuff wont be but it’s a crowded market so if I were you I wouldn’t go there…’

Fair enough.

I also knew the Staff and Families bit would be a stretch. I’d figured out how I could work within the restrictions AND I’d tested it repeatedly with people I knew on the frontline – but it would need a proper Thinking Differently mindset of behalf of those doing the procuring.

Which left Prison Governors – the Forgotten Few - and who looks after the people at the top?

I knew that there was support available to these people and what that support was - ‘cos I’d done my homework.

I knew that support wasn’t typically taken up and I also knew why – that’s homework again.

I also knew that if you’re in a leadership and a giving role that you need to look after yourself first (Take) so that you can Give (and Lead) of your best. And you need to do that regularly and proactively especially if you’re in a complex, challenging, high stakes environment with no end to the shit times in sight.

I ALSO knew that the prison service has their senior people conducting good practice reviews by looking back in excruciating detail at the times and occasions when shit goes wrong.

They don’t look up, they don’t look forward and they don’t focus on the good stuff and share the lessons.

We’ll start there then.

So I got three of my advocate prison governors together on Zoom – other platforms are available – to refine a facilitated process of my design during which they:

Unload the shit and ask for help

Share the good stuff

Look ahead to what’s coming over the hill

We booked an hour, we used two and they want more. Well, that’s normal for this breakthrough stuff…

Back to HMPPS then:

We know there’s a need and a gap.

We’ve got this to fill that gap and help your people.

We’ve tested it.

They want it.

You wanna taste it too?


This Is Not The Way.

My way is clearly going to have to be through a back door, sneaky passage or teleportation. I need to be funded from outside the Justice sector – and that’s probably Health – or bring my own funds to the party. All of which is an interesting proposition given the current state of the country’s finances with many sectors on the knees and heading rapidly down from there.

The picture in Justice was painted to me this week as follows:

‘We were told to spend money to save lives – and we did. They (government) stepped back a bit and let us get on and do it. We did and it worked – we actually had some autonomy again. Now it’s closing in and we’re being told to save money ‘cos we’ve ‘overspent’. That’s a f**kin’ joke – in the big scheme of things that ‘overspend’ is equivalent to my bar bill. They want to see what’s coming next ‘cos the cost of getting us out of this will dwarf anything that’s been spent so far.’

A New Hope

Two days ago my corporate sponsor Kebbell Homes renewed their commitment to support my work for a second year. They had no idea how timely their renewal was. I re-print some of the content of my letter to them here:

Your Money Matters

The historical and dominant culture within our prison system is one that is risk averse and inward-looking in which everyone and everything is viewed with suspicion from the outset. It’s a political hot potato – it’s a brave and rare politician that will set their stall on radical and long term reform – and yet how well prisons to their job – rehabilitation – affects us all.

This means that getting the prison service to accept something new, different, innovative and effective from ‘outside’ is fraught with difficulty: Protracted courtship, hoop-jumping, endless meetings, travel and false starts. It all costs time and money – and if you’re not being paid to do any actual work with ‘em then it’s YOUR time and money.

The money from Kebbell is an utter godsend: It helps me stay alive, feed the family and stay sane while trying to find a way to break in. It IS possible and there are people with influence doing great work - but finding them takes longer and usually takes you on a very different route.

The Mission Remains

Most of the 80,000 souls currently behind bars in this country will be released. This means someone somewhere is coming to your neighborhood – and you’d want them to play by the same rules as you, right?

The gold standard test of rehabilitation is the Reoffending Rate: How many people will commit another offence in the first 12 months after they are released from prison. That figure stands at 6-7 out of 10 – a level that has not shifted for decades. I still want to do something about that.

The Mission Just Got Harder

Prisons are still in almost total lockdown – in part because this policy has effectively controlled the CV-19 infection rates. The flip-side is men and women confined to cells for up to 23 hours a day without any work-related activities, education, training or visits. Those being released are entering a very different world with an economy in recession.

Restrictions are set to stay in place for prisons while the rest of society makes a transition to ‘normal’. Service providers like me remain locked out. Many in the sector think this is a ticking time bomb – but however this does play out one undeniable truth remains: The need for this work will be even greater.

I remain committed to finding a way. I have little idea of what that is yet – but your support means I can stick with it.

This Is The Way.

Thank you.

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.


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…


‘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.


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.


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:


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…