Beware! Bias Below
Just because I do my homework doesn’t mean this is an objective piece of writing.
For the sake of transparency this is where I’m coming from and where I’m going:
- As an educated middle-aged white bloke with economic means I am operating at the least level of difficulty in this (my) society.
- I’ve never served time and there is no history of prison service in my family.
- My writing and podcasts are designed to get more people to give a damn about this subject so public opinion shifts and more politicians are moved to push for reform.
For the sake of clarity this is what you should know about what I think:
- With very few exceptions prison should return men and women who have committed a crime back to society ready and able to contribute and participate as a paid-up member of the human race.
- With very few exceptions those people deserve that chance.
- Many parts of our justice system need wholesale reform - and yet there are good people doing great work in almost impossible circumstances.
Putting The Band Back Together
It’s like we’ve never been away – except I have while the 6 men in front of me have experienced two years of Covid-enforced incarceration the like of which you and I can barely comprehend.
33 men went through my program at HMP Wymott before prisons went into lockdown in March 2020 and here in May 2022 only 8 remain – others have been moved or released - and 7 are with me now for the first time in a room together.
Handshakes are firm, eye contact is steady, the volume is verging on boisterous – and everyone’s grinning like a loon.
I’ve brought the graduation group photos from the program - in which everyone’s grinning like a loon – that prompts a bout of high-volume reminiscing.
It’s f**in’ JOYOUS is what it is.
I’m not sure what I expected but I’m fairly certain JOY didn’t feature, and it’s not lost on me that today I’ve had to come to a prison to find it. And to my eyes they all look remarkably good – ripple effect from smiley faces notwithstanding.
The stories tumble out:
The last 2 years? ‘Lost, exhausting, a rollercoaster…’
What’s stuck with you since we were together?
How are you different now?
Most are exercising regularly – hardly anyone was 2 years ago and PE is the only activity that’s available to all now with all other prison activities still under some Covid-restrictions.
All talk about the bond that now exists between them and how knowing someone else gives a damn has been a lifeline. Someone thanks me for my letter – I wrote to all 33 during the first year and still have no idea if they got through the chaos or how they were received – which prompts a round of agreement and heartfelt thanks.
I swallow hard: Christ, it actually worked then…
And more people are clearly taking more control of their own shit more of the time – and that time has been one when the few choices they did have were drastically reduced.
A few minutes later Number 7 burst in high as a kite after his first family visit in over 2 years. I remember him not saying much when he was with us – his work ethic did the talking – but now he’s gabbing away ten to the dozen.
As I said: JOY.
Eventually we get down to business – and someone somewhere has leaked ‘cos remarkably some of them already know:
We’re putting the band back together!
A few short days after my previous ‘This Is Not A Test’ post https://bigandscaryrunning.com/this-is-not-a-test/ I got news of my first ever contract award – this one from NHS to re-start and develop my in-prison work.
This milestone has taken me 10 years - that’s a DECADE, people! - while courting the NHS has taken nearly two.
It gives me a year to have a good run at this and clearly timing has played a part.
Inspection, reform and campaigning groups continue to sound alarm bells at the situation facing our 80,000 people on the inside.
Here’s the latest from the Howard League focusing on young people https://howardleague.org/blog/young-peoples-experiences-of-prison-during-the-pandemic/
Easy to read stuff like this and - after the rage has subsided - feel swamped, flap about madly and wonder how on earth more people aren’t killing themselves and each other. (The answer is more women are at risk of trying* while keeping people in-cell for up to 23hrs/day is remarkably effective at keeping the peace**).
The challenge as ever remains:
How to start simply, to maximum effect in the shortest time for the least effort – and this is why I am here with these blokes today.
‘I can do all that’ I’d said to the senior prison folks as we sketched out the re-start plan, ‘ And I can do it easier and faster if we involve the graduates from my pre-lockdown programs as peer mentors. ‘Anyone left?’
My Magnificent Seven.
Timeline RFYL CIC
You think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in:
- 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
- 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 corporate sponsorship from Kebbell Homes
- 2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Theraputic Community
- 2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown
- 2020 June: Start online coaching supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut
- 2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP/YOI Brinsford
- 2021 March: Three programs delivered in semi-lockdown HMP/YOI Brinsford
- 2021 Sept: Second corporate sponsor PwC Foundation supports the governor work
- 2021 Dec: Prisons revert to almost full lockdown as Omicron variant hits
- 2022 Feb: Start working online with deputy governors and governor PAs
- 2022 March: Secure NHS funding to re-start prison work with Delphi Medical
- Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 37
- Funding Bids Successful: 2
- 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