Putting The Band Back Together

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:

For the sake of clarity this is what you should know about what I think:

Putting The Band Back Together

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?

What’s helped?

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. 

Yes, really.

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.

Read More



Timeline RFYL CIC

You think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in: 

The Numbers

Marathon Man

Yours truly did indeed toe the line at the Manchester race earlier this month – my first big city marathon.

Here’s some stuff that stood out:

3-2-1-Go -THROW!

It took about 15mins to walk from the place that looked after your change bag (while you were out doing the business) to the start line. And then you were still shy of the actual Start: That was reserved for the speedy racing snakes – the rest of us mere mortals were stacked behind in our pens that were graded by our (usually optimistic) anticipated finish time. 

If I looked back behind me at the rest of the 20,000 folks who also thought this was a good way to spend a Sunday it was a column of humanity as far as the eye could see.

All freezing our bits off as we endured the long wait from arriving at our allotted place to actually starting this thing.

Because it was right chilly! 

The solution was not a compulsory mass aerobics shouty dance-off led by aging 90’s icon Derek Evans, but to be clad in toasty outerwear that you’d be happy to give away.

The organisers had placed a team of athletic Clothes Catchers either side of the start line whose job it was the receive garments thrown at them by passing runners and bundle the items ready to go to local charities. 

You could spot those runners who’d done this before clad as they were in anything big, fluffy and badly fitting but smiling the smug smile of the righteously toasty. This meant a shower of garments would erupt out of the jostling throng in a hopeful trajectory sidewards as the start pens were released. Genius!

Lost In Translation

The cheer of choice among the metropolitan masses these days appears to be the ubiquitous ‘You Got This!’ - capital letters do indeed apply – or the equally popular ‘You’re Smashing It!’ (see previous). 

Now I’ve never really wet my pants in excitement over either of these but I can tell you that they are somewhat removed from the chorus directed at you if you are racing in the more rural hillier parts of this fair isle. To wit:

‘Gerron wi’ eet’ (Get thee on about thy business, sir - exclamation mark optional)

‘Ahreet’ (You are doing just fine – get thee on about thy business etc etc)

‘Aye.’ (Well met indeed – you are doing just fine – get thee about thy business etc etc).

And as for the volume – well.

‘Gotta hand it to the locals though because there were very few parts of the route that were unsupported and we went through many parts of the city where crowds looked to be 10 deep at least. It was all quite a culture clash.

Clearly I need to get out more.

Who Is That Guy?

It took me 7miles to figure out who the ‘Come On Andy!’ cheers were for.

‘There’s an awful lot of Andy’s around me’, I thought as I passed through yet another chorus.


Written under my race number in big friendly letters pinned to my front was indeed my first name put there by race organisation so that the crowds could get personal with me and my 19,999 companions. Eventually I clocked where the meaningful eye contact was directed and the penny dropped – and I spent the next mile feeling suitably embarrassed.

‘Senior moment…

People Power

Rounding a corner at around mile 20 there is a girl of about eight holding out a big homemade cardboard sign: ‘Touch Here For More Energy’ was etched in big colourful letters around a large gold circle helpfully available at waist height.

Comprehension is operating on time-lapse and realisation comes only when she’s behind me.

Too late.

And my race?

I was never really comfortable and found the last 20miles hard – and while I was pleased to stick with it and not fall apart it was all way too slow for my Competitive Bloke side to be remotely happy about. Forensic self-analysis has so far proved inconclusive though the key benefit remains unequivocal: Having this as a focus kept me sane over the winter and gave me structure, progression and something new to get my teeth into.

I enjoyed the process and gave it my best shot on the day. 

The rest is just my baggage – and clearly I’m still packing.

Not exactly jumping with joy at the finish and for those that are interested that’s elapsed race time not my actual…

This Is Not A Test

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:

For the sake of clarity this is what you should know about what I think:

This Is Not A Test

Thus spake the Chief Inspector Prisons Charlie Taylor on Feb 23rd at a launch event of a project to deep dive into 20 years of reports and recommendations from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons - and yours truly was watching live and online.

How much of where your prison is at is down to your leadership?’

Chief Inspector Prisons Charlie Taylor

HMIP is to our prison system what Ofsted* is to our schools – just without the league tables, thank god. (Think about that for a few seconds and tell me if you can come up with any positives from any perspective. I can’t. ‘Hasn’t stopped the idea being mooted at ministerial level in the past though).

Recently I heard about how many of those report recommendations remain unfulfilled – and trust me, you don’t want to know. What the hell’s the point of inspections then? I raged before doing some digging into the point of inspections.

And of course It’s Not That Simple and there are many reasons/excuses - not least of which is the fact that HMIP used to make up to 150 recommendations of per report. That then dropped to nearer 30 and they are (mercifully) about to drop that again to 6-3.

*Every prison also has an Independent Monitoring Board made up of volunteers from all walks of life. Their job is to keep tabs on the implementation of the latest HMIP recommendations for their prison and to ensure that the people inside are treated humanely.

There’s also a question of teeth: HMIP is not a regulator and has no power to close a prison. It will make recommendations to the Secretary of State if pushing for the nuclear option – most recently in the case of a secure centre for children in Kent - but it relies on the cooperation of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service to work with said prison and the Inspectorate to make good on the recommendations.

So on Feb 23rd Charlie Taylor was pushing at the leadership reason/excuse.

He had my attention given that HMIP had recently added ‘Leadership’ to their inspection criteria and a fair chunk of my last 2 years has indeed been supporting prison leaders.

Context for his remarks were what his team had found over the last 3 months or so as inspection of prisons had resumed with ‘Time Out Of Cell’ arguably the headline KPI.

Remember that during Covid people in prison had been confined to their cell for around 23hrs/day in order to control the spread of infection. That restriction had been relaxed during infection windows and more consistently so towards the back end of last year – until the Omicron variant hit and prisons reverted to near full lockdown.

As I write today, most prisons remain under some operational restriction which means that most of the 80,000 people we have serving sentences will have now spent 2 years in isolation or semi-isolation with family visits, education, training and treatment very sporadic or non-existent during that time.

The price for doing time during a pandemic? From a certain point of view.

Just remember also that as well as keeping the public safe our prison system is also charged with returning people back to society with a software upgrade…


Reaching Out & Looking In

The latest from my work in our criminal justice system

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:

For the sake of clarity this is what you should know about what I think:

Thank god.

‘Living in the USA is great – as long as you’re not black, poor or have done something wrong.’

And John (not his real name) should know: He’s just spent 2.5 years incarcerated in the States and has recently been deported back to the country of his birth.

In the middle of a pandemic.

After being away for more than a decade.

Leaving children and their mother (now his ex-wife) behind.

Facing the twin challenges of looking back and reconciling what he did and looking forward at the prospect of starting again this time with the legacy of his crime, the remoteness of the north of England clearly had appeal. You wouldn’t give this smart, athletic-looking middle aged man a second glance if you passed him in the street, but the eyes that look back at me are windows into a tortured soul.

A bike ride and a train ride have brought me to meet him to a place he might soon call home. I’m there because someone who knows us both asked me, and I’m there because I can and it’s the right thing to do. We had a phone call a week ago and here we are. 

I knew he rode bikes so I’ve brought mine so he doesn’t have to do the painful ‘sit down in a café and feel shit by talking to some bloke I’ve only just met about all the shit I’ve gone through’ bit.

Because if all you do is change the physical environment for someone you get a different mental and emotional response.

So we’re changing up.

‘Oh – and we’re gonna ride,’ I’d told him. ‘Put your knobbly tires on and pick us a route.’


It turned into a friggin’ time-trial that was a blast out on the roads to the base of a big hill then a haul-your-ass skywards brutal ascent on a bridleway till we hit the 30min mark trying desperately to keep my lungs from exploding out of my ears while feigning the appearance of someone totally in their comfort zone.

The only crumb of comfort was that I left him for dead on the return descent (go me).

Sometimes it would be nice not to have to suffer so much for my professional practice.

But that’s all ahead of us.

I have a rule of never asking if they don’t tell, and here’s what I knew:

He’d had a very successful career in Big Tech having gone out there to live and work.

He had a family and economic means.

And it was a sexual offence.

Given I knew some of how we do crime-punishment-justice in this country, we were able to play compare-contrast with John’s US experience.

‘It’s an industry,’ he told me. ‘The numbers are beyond comprehension*. 

I was in what they call a ‘Corrections’ facility but there was no ‘correction – we were just locked up and warehoused…

I met people who were serving 8-10-12 years for what we’d class as minor offences – often relating to drugs – with little or no prospect of early release because proving you’ve made progress in that system is, well…’ **

However daunting the prospect was of starting again over here while his children were over there, John was very grateful that he was well, over here.

Because the restrictions he would be placed under over there – where he could go, what he’d have to disclose, who he could be with, how he’d be supervised etc etc - would be orders of magnitude above what are be imposed here***.

And for those convicted of a sexual offence the restrictions are tighter again – in this country and the US.

That’s something he doesn’t have control over either: It’s not his decision about whether to disclose or not – that is made by those who monitor and supervise him. And while there are good reasons for that it’s clearly not the full story either. Joining a local cycling club – with all the benefits that would bring to him – might not be as simple a rocking up to a club ride with the words ‘Hello, I’m John I’ve just moved up here - please can I join your club?’

Someone else might decide that the club needs to know that their budding newbie is also John The Sex Offender…

So ‘agency’ – having a sense and actuality of control – remains an elusive feature for him. He didn’t have it inside – where you exist by responding to the instructions and rules of others – and achieving it outside is going to be a stretch too.

Some would say that’s a good thing – and there’s truth there for sure.

It’s just not the whole picture.

Which is why I’d already talked to him about his exercise and training - as well as the capacity for distraction from his own shit it’s also a simple way to experience Cause-Effect: I did that ride last week and I’m 5mins faster this week and it felt about the same – that’s me making progress then…

And to explore the area.

And make new friends.

And manage his mood so he can think clearly about his future and reconcile his past.

Bike ride silliness notwithstanding it’s clearly quite an emotional encounter for John who visibly and often struggles to contain his emotions. 

‘Some people have just shut down and shut me out’, he explained. ‘I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost my wife and haven’t seen my kids for 3 years - and of course I get that. But other people…’ there’s a pause while he rides the emotional rollercoaster ‘have either come forward for the first time or have been amazing. Like today. It’s just…’

Yeah. Another step – a small one and one of many more ahead of him – but it’s forwards not backwards or sideways and that counts.

More than you or I can ever comprehend.


*We - England & Wales - have the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe at 138 per 100,000 people but the US is on another level jailing 655 people per 100,000.

**Sentence inflation is a trend here too: 2003 the minimum term to be served for murder was 12 years. Now it’s 20 years. The USA has that pattern right across the board due to the ‘Three Strikes’ law that dramatically increases a punishment for those people convicted of serious offences twice previously to (usually) not less than life.

More people are being jailed for longer (we have that trend too) while the US remains at the top of the global re-offending league table with only China and Indonesia above them: 7 out of 10 people will be back inside within 5 years of release. We fare a little better but not by much. 

The point is that prison in the US and over here isn’t – for most people – a ‘corrector of crime.’ But we’re shoving more people back in there for longer anyway.

There is hope and transformation inside is possible – but you have to look elsewhere for it: Finland’s equivalent rate is 2 out of 10…

***There’s a ton of good work being done to make it easier (in law and practice) for people with convictions to re-enter society in general and the world of work in particular without having to wave their past around front and centre and being denied that chance as a result. Here’s two https://morethanmypast.org.uk   https://cleansheet.org.uk

Sources & Further Reading

Prison Reform Trust The Bromley Briefings

Penal Reform International

Russell Webster drugs and crime updates

Wikipedia Three Strikes law

Timeline RFYL CIC

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

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

The Numbers

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

A Weekend Of Two Halves

The clock does not lie – and the only way to really see where you are on the racing -snake stakes is to put yourself on a start line and give it yer best.

Because when the flag drops, the bullsh** stops, as we used to say in our triathlon heyday.

So on the day before London Marathon last weekend I found myself huffing and puffing along with a few other soggy folks round my local 10km road race. Now I can’t remember the last time I did 1Okm on the road – and one that wasn’t part of a triathlon.

I can remember zipping round Warwick University campus sometime in the late 1980s in 33mins and change – but between then and now?

Not so clear.

And, y’know, I thought I was in OK shape – I mean, nothing scary-fast but okayyyy-ish at least.

‘How long will it take you then?’ asks Mrs Mouncey.

‘Well – I’ll cry if it’s anything over 39mins.’ I said.

Oh dear.

I cried.

And the boys nearly left home ‘cos they had Dad down for the win.

Recognising that I had some work to do managing the expectations of my offspring, I was just thankful I had two positive stats in which there remained a hint of hope:

No-one came past me.

I managed to pass a few folks of my own.

So if it was process over outcome there was some stuff to cheer about.

Except it’s a short race – so it wasn’t.

And I never ever thought I register a time that slow for that distance.




Fortunately the day after proved one of significantly better cheer as marathon news of (real name) Badr (see previous post) came through:

First there was the 4 minute documentary film the BBC had made of him last week when we had all gathered in Burnley for a final trouble-shoot session.

Then the texts:

He’s passed halfway!

Then: He’s finished!

Then: 3.57!

The Refugee

Displaced peoples.

Economic migrants.


Call ‘em what you will – just have a care to check the labels you use.

Sections of the popular press and the ignorant fearful who spew bile from the cover of social media would have us believe that they’re all leaches here to suck away our national resources or closet terrorists hell bent on murder and mayhem.


Family Mouncey have now done homestay twice with Bentham Area Refugee Support Group, for refugees who are being looked after by the Red Cross hub in Bradford, W Yorks. The first for a single Eritrean young man, the second for a young Iraqi family – and all with way more in common with us than they had differences.

In both cases the decision to leave was agonised over and in both cases at least part of the journey was made as a stowaway in a lorry – yes, that sh** is real – in the knowledge that the reception at the other end would come down to a wrestling match between a humanitarian pull, the push of professional duties and the noise of a polarised shouting match from the watching populace.

So I am in awe of these people – of those that die trying and those that live and who go on to carve a new life against odds we can barely comprehend.

Earlier this summer I got a call from Active Lancashire

Could I help a young man who they were supporting get ready for the London Marathon in Oct 3?

Well, yes.

Except Ben (not his real name) was a somewhat different project.

Not yet 20 he’d left his family behind in the Middle East – many of whom had been killed as fighting continued in his homeland – to make the trip to Europe*. He eventually found himself in the north of England where AL picked him up.

Smart, articulate but with basic English, he’d enrolled in college and got involved in a range of sport and reportedly had a work ethic to die for – but his running was somewhat of an unknown. AL had been gifted a funded place from London Marathon Charitable Trust under the ‘sport for development’ bit and Ben had said yes.

That was the easy bit – now we just had to get him ready and failure was not an option.

Turned out my biggest problem was holding him back.

A few weeks in to the training program I’d carefully constructed – knowing full well that it would be so easy to have him doing too much too soon – I had a conversation with one of his support workers that went something like this:

Me: ‘So how’s he coping with the training?’

Support: ‘Well…he told us he went out and did the full marathon distance last week just to see if he could – then a few days later he did it again…’

WTF ??!!???

Work ethic? Tick.

Embrace challenge? Tick.

Self-motivated? Tick.

Tolerate prolonged discomfort? Tick

Fear of failure? Delete that sh**

Resilient? Tick.

Etc. etc. etc.

Yes, dear reader: Getting him to the start line healthy and ready to run was and remains the biggest challenge.

So here we are with a couple of weeks to go and we’re still ripping up plans and schedules and doing our best to wind him in without resorting to leg irons. My biggest fear remains eleventh-hour onset of over-use injury in the lower legs – while Ben clearly doesn’t do ‘biggest fears’ anymore having been there, done those and got the T-shirt many times over.

And while getting him get to the start line with all his running bits intact will be Something, I suspect that the finish line will simply be the start of something else again.

He is a remarkable young man.

*I know little else about his story ‘cos if they don’t tell I will never ask: I start with what’s in front of me and where they want to go.

What little else I do know of his origin is this: Think Middle East version of displaced people as in Kurds or Palestinians i.e. no one wants to give you a home and all your neighbours want to kill you.

The Fallacy of Freedom

It’s July 20th and as I write this, yesterday – July 19 - was Freedom (from covid restrictions) Day.


Though not if you were serving time inside.

And while I recognise that our system of justice would be somewhat undermined if we just threw the odd Freedom Day in there for everyone periodically my point is this:

July 19 2021 was just another normal day under extraordinary conditions that are now some 16 months old:

In-cell for more than 20 hours a day

Education reduced to in-cell learning packs

Work-based training reduced to essential on-site tasks

Family visits limited

And while there are exceptions – because each prison has to make a case for a progressive relaxation of its operating restrictions - it would appear that this generalization holds for most of the 80,000 people we have behind bars.

I’ve read the reports* and I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Reasons & Restrictions

Outbreak of infection in a closed environment remains the main reason why restrictions persist. Prisons are charged with safeguarding the welfare of their staff and of those sentenced by the courts.

Another reality is that a policy of restriction and confinement in prison has been very successful in containing infections in what is a highly vulnerable population – general health levels would not be described as robust or resilient, for example.

Such a policy has kept the death rate down and way below the levels modelled by Public Health England at the start of the pandemic.

Remember back in Feb-March last year when cruise ships became a petri-dish writ large?

Forced to anchor off-shore?

That was a stark early example of infection in a closed environment and a prison is just a land-based version of that nightmare.

Despite the push to vaccinate we are seeing infection spikes and virus variants in specific places around the country. The path out of Covid is not linear or finite - prisons are no exception to this – and the Prison Service has made it very clear very recently that the path it prefers to take will be a careful (and ultimately reversable) one.

Regular readers will know that Chris and I - former trouble-shooter with Shell turned Run For Your Life CIC advisory group member – have been coaching prison governors during the pandemic.

This was in part because the in-prison work I was doing all stopped in March 2020 as prisons went into lockdown and well, I felt I had to find a way to continue to contribute.

We’ve learned some stuff, had our eyes opened and refined our methods – and all our 9 governors tell us that however stark the last 16 months have been the real fun stuff is just beginning:

• Leading their people and institution safely out of covid restrictions

• Designing-in the lessons from the pandemic into a new operational normal

So in the interests of making this post even more meaningful I’ve decided to make it interactive by putting you in the shoes of a prison governor.

Pop quiz, Hotshot: What would you do?

Leadership Dilemma Number 1: Control Infection v Relax Restrictions

Phone a friend?

Ask the audience?


Not That Simple

This is not a binary position or an either/or – prison governors are charged with both and more besides. What might look like a black and white administrative position is also a moral one as well. Here’s an insight into the blurred space between what is actually multiple stakeholders – it’s just that for the purposes of simplicity I’ve given you two poles.

In the blue corner we have the Safety lobby: This is the ‘More restrictions are good for staff and prisoners’ view – and this is pressure to have more men spending more time in-cell as part of a so-called ‘new normal.’

Key advocates: Staff, officers, unions.

In the red corner we have what I will call the Sanity lobby: This is the ‘In what universe where rehabilitation is the goal does locking more people up for longer make any kind of sense?’ view.

Key advocates: Families, Humanitarian & Prison Reform groups.

In the middle: The prison governor.

Let’s dig a little deeper.


There is data to back this up: Violence in male prisons** (prisoner-prisoner / prisoner-staff) has gone way down during the pandemic, and there is plenty of documented anecdotal evidence that staff and many prisoners do feel safer and relationships between staff and men have been strengthened. Therefore, goes the argument, this is a good outcome and we need to do it more.

SANITY: ‘Well, what do you expect?’ ’comes the counter. ‘If you put people in boxes for longer and stop them mixing when they’re not then of course person-on-person violence is going to drop.’

Here the Sanity lobby goes Big Picture to the human health cost of confinement – only now starting to become clear as inspections resume – and that Safety should actually be a starting point not an outcome to be sought somewhere in the future.

Meanwhile the MoJ is consulting prison officers on this very question – The Prison Reform Trust has stepped in to do the prisoner-ask bit – while restrictions continue to lift in society in general and stay in place for prisons.

In the middle: The prison governor – and once again this Safety-Sanity is not an either/or.

So what would you do, Hotshot?

Hang on ‘cos I’m going to muddy the waters some more…


This is the bit that requires you dear reader, to park what you think what you believe about crime and punishment and just recognise that people in prison during a pandemic have little/no agency: They rely almost totally on other people to keep them free of infection and informed.


They’re inside and not going anywhere – people are coming to them (from outside)

They’re not generally in great health

Their living conditions are not exactly 5-star

Their ability to stay objectively informed and think clearly under pressure is somewhat compromised

Their safety and sanity need other people who have power and capacity to Give A Sh**.

I’ve been privileged to visit some prisons in the last few months and I can tell you that there are good people on staff teams and from the voluntary sector who continue to do their best to humanize this awful experience for the people in their care.

That’s what you can see on the ground.

From above? Here’s a perspective on what could be possible within current resource levels – once you decide that the key features that defines the quality of life these people experience add up to ‘Vulnerable.’

If we work our way up from there here’s what that could look like given a shift in priorities within current vaccination resource levels:

On July 1st 345, 591 vaccinations were given in the UK as either a first or second dose.

That’s around 14, 400 per hour.

At that rate you’d need less than half a day to get round all our prison population once.

Our prison population were not included in the ‘Vulnerable Population’ category when the vaccination program first rolled out. And while all people serving sentences and prison staff have now been offered the vaccine and been given information about their choice, the issue – just as in wider society – is not availability.

It’s take-up: Less than half the prison population have had a covid jab compared to the 90% of the general population who have had a first dose and 70% or so who have had a second.

Once again: It’s Not That Simple – and in the middle? The prison governor.

Supporting Prison Governors

Our work with governors has been on pause for various reasons and I’ve been casting about for ways to get it un-paused.

And hitting way too many brick walls / blind alleys way too often while trying to maintain the momentum of the work even if I have to hold it together with my own spit.

And then someone who also gives a sh** threw me a lifeline.

The PwC Foundation will from September step in with some ££ that will allow us to continue the work and put senior leaders from PwC alongside some of our governors in reciprocal mentoring relationships that will complement the online group work from Chris and I.

And the origin of that gift? Playing the long game in a professional relationship that began some 5 years ago.


*The discipline is to remember that reports are written retrospectively from a certain point of view and that events and the situation on the ground may well have moved on.

** By contrast self-harm in women’s prisons has gone up.

Sources & Further Reading








Beware! Bias

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 – I’ve just walked in this world and have been moved to act.

• My writing is designed to get more people to give a sh** about this subject so public opinion shifts and politicians pay attention.

For the sake of clarity this is what you should know:

• With very few exceptions, the purpose of prison is to return men and women who have committed a crime back to society ready and able to contribute and participate.

• With very few exceptions, those people deserve that chance.

• Our system of justice is broken, consistently neglected by our elected leaders and in need of wholesale reform.

• And yet there are good people doing good great work in almost impossible circumstances.

Thank god.

Has He Ever Done Anything Like This Before?

‘Has he ever done anything like this before?’

The race paramedic looks up from the pale gasping fish incapacitated on the floor masquerading as an ultrarunner and across to Mrs Mouncey who is by this time, verging on the ‘somewhat perturbed.’

‘Well…’ she looks down at the pale gasping fish masquerading as her husband ‘He has a history of fainting at finish lines – a big sugar crash – but he usually recovers quite quick: sweet tea seems to work. But this…’ she waves at the thing she promised to love, honour and obey all those years ago, ‘is er, unusual.’

No shit, sister: I’m in the ‘somewhat perturbed’ space here too, y’know?

‘Here’ being the 89mile point on the Lakeland 100 www.lakeland100.com and the Ambleside checkpoint in the heart of The Lakes. Well aware I desperately needed to lie down in some shade, I’d propped myself up on Charlotte and lurched inside before collapsing like a rag doll in a quiet corner. My body however, was just getting started: My heart rate suddenly went through the roof and my breathing threatened to spiral out of control as the Heat Stroke Monster applied the final choke hold.

This the latest twisted chapter in what had been 24 hours of off-script mind-body games that I’d mostly managed to keep hidden.

Until I’d seen Charlotte and the boys here at Ambleside.

The fun stuff had kicked in early: We’d started at 6pm and it was still hot and stayed oppressively warm through the evening. I was drinking more than usual and still dripping.

The first signs of trouble came as early: I’d started slow and near the back and – god, PEOPLE!


People everywhere! Hordes at the start lining the roads and being part of a 500 strong field of runners again was vaguely unnerving. I was torn between blocking it out and taking it in so in the end I just walked and did both – which was a bit of a rollercoaster too.

‘Bit rusty with this crowds thing, then.

While I was working my way through consistently it was still all slow – I did my best to control my focus but for some reason I felt unsettled. And it unsettled me that I couldn’t figure that unsettled shit out either. The big picture was that forward progress was being made. But…

20miles came as darkness fell along with the first real nausea and stomach cramps that somewhat soured my appreciation of a stunning full moon rising behind us – and had me grumpy and even slower for the next 6miles through the mountins to the checkpoint at Buttermere.

Well aware I’d ate hardly anything and still didn’t feel like much I settled for attending to the fault light that was flashing brightest on my dashboard: I stretched out on my back on the ground to ease my cramping stomach muscles and just stayed there among the checkpoint traffic.

I wasn’t the only body stretched out either and I could hear lots of other tummy-related grumps.

Not just me then…

One final lumpy stage and 7miles would take me to the next CP at Braithwaite near Keswick and after that it becomes more runnable for a while.

This has got to get easier, right? Even if I bloody walk the next bit I can get a decent feed and recover…

In the back of my mind even I’m not sure of my powers of re-set after 6 hours through the mountains with very little fuel and lots of f**king about. First things first though: Stand up – eat something – start walking away.

I find I can get some soup down – and tea.

Lots of tea.

Then I chance it and go for a frankenfurter.

Which stays down.

Now the walking away bit.

Yep – that works too.

That frankenfurter is good shit – who knew?!

I manage to walk then shuffle then trot then actually feel like I was getting close to respectable running again on the long drop from the high point of the stage at around 600m. So I arrive at 33miles feeling the most ‘less-shit’ I’ve felt all race and even looking reasonably chipper judging by the comments from the CP crew.

Still don’t feel like eating much though – so it’s soup and tea until I put my big boy pants on and put away a small rice pudding as well.

‘Cos I know there’s trouble building if tummy keeps giving me the finger.

The other thing I notice is that I really need the sit down.


And as a rule I stay standing through a CP.

I also have rules about Eyes Front, Not Talking That Much & Preferring My Own Company – and I’ll break all those today as well.

It remains vest-only warm through the night.

The headtorch goes off at around 40miles and I’m in a pattern that I’ll hold to the big 59mile CP that is known as halfway on this 105mile route: Hike anything going remotely uphill, chug along the flats, be better than average on anything downhill, eat very little, swing between feeling okay-ish to okay-less – and be almost unbearably slow while still steadily passing folks.

It’s still almost bloody transformational compared to the first 30miles.

I find it very difficult to be consistently at peace with my present state without getting emotional leakage from my speedier races here. This is not helped by the fact that everything about my recent training indicated I was in good shape and not the Mr Misery that is currently trying to take over the party.

Or that I’ve been building up to this for 18months and it was supposed to be, well…

Er, a bit better than this??

Grind It Out mode really hits at the 66mile CP and my race dynamics change for good as I’m joined by two people I know of very well through their race achievements but don’t actually know at all:

Ben Abdelnoor is a top fell runner who also won the 50mile version here a few years ago when it was the UK Trail Running Champs, while Karen Nash is arguably the best F60 veteran ultrarunner we have racking up finishes and placings at most of the top events in Europe and this country over the years.

We’ve been crossing each other periodically during the first part of the race and we all arrive at this CP within a few minutes of each other. Ben’s on his first 100 miler while Karen and I are both way beyond that and just nursing our rebellious tums.

As we sit side by side minus any visible signs of urgency, one of the crew remarks along the lines of ‘in the presence of ultrarunning greatness…’

We look at each other and Karen says it for all of us:

‘Well, I don’t feel that great just at the moment, I can tell you.’

We hook up – and while there is some chat it’s mostly companionable silence. This, we decide, is the defining difference between the experienced folks and the newbies – so we bathe in our shared smugness and it carries us for a while.

This section takes us up and over the high point of the course and back into the mountainous stuff again. Our group rotates the lead periodically and the elastic will stretch and shorten and we still arrive at the 76mile CP more or less together. The heat has been steadily building, we’re all slow and only Ben is really eating anything like half decently.

But the mutual distraction is working to stave off the deterioration in us all that would have come earlier had we been flying solo.

So we stick with the threesome and two dodgy tummys.

It’s just really f**kin’ slow – and I have to drag myself up the next two huge climbs hanging off my poles. Fortunately Karen and Ben are locked in the same gear. Descending is better – remarkably we’re still passing people – but I know how much faster I can go / have gone on this bit and it chafes: Of my previous 5 outings in this race the last 2 have been beset by progressive power loss caused by energy depletion – and here I am again this time with tangible nausea and an even bigger disconnect between my expectations and reality.



Compassionate self-care is clearly something I forgot to pack but it seems I did remember The Fridge. It straps itself to my back which delights Mr Misery and has me contemplating the Dark Side as the heat builds to oppressive once again in the final few miles into the next CP at 82miles. Ben and Karen are already there sampling the best thing we’ve all encountered at a CP all day: Bowls of fruit salad.

Finally! Something I feel like eating AND I can actually get down.

But I can only manage one and it’s a small one at that.

Karen knows it’s curtains to linger at this stage so she heads out.

Ben and I know it’s curtains to linger but we’re both still wrestling with it.

I’m really very happy just to sit inside out of the heat with my eyes closed and a wet something over my head.

But it’s gonna be curtains: Ben and I do the ‘I will if you will’ dance which has us both heading out onto another big upward haul followed by and even longer drop into the valley below. Then another haul – then another drop.

Then Ambleside – and family.

Very quickly I find I can’t hold Ben without a huge effort and am forced to let him go.

I go full Dark Side while what feels like walking in the fires of Hell. I stopped sweating ages ago and now I’m just burning. I can soak my hat periodically but what I really need is something big enough to throw myself in – and despite this being The Lake District that option doesn’t exist on this section.

Just when you need a lake…

I am one very sorry, stumbling emotionally-fraught excuse for a seasoned competitor that eventually emerges into the outskirts of the town desperately craning ahead for the first sight of wife and boys at their usual spot.

Not there.

I have to ram down a sob that threatens to burst out and choke me and I almost fall.

‘S’OK – they’ll be along the street somewhere. It’s busy – maybe they couldn’t…’

Turn onto the street – it’s packed with people and cars and… NOISE.

Crane ahead – can’t see...

Not there.

‘They’ll be at the checkpoint then. S’OK…the checkpoint…’

I walk-weave between people and cars and dogs and NOISE desperately looking-craning-searching for…Charlotte – where’s Charlotte? Where…?

And then she’s there 50 yards ahead of me and control goes like that as I collapse into the nearest wall great full-body gulping sobs breaking out all over the place. And then she’s right there holding me up so I trade the wall for my wife and cry like baby all over her as our boys look on:

‘WTF, Dad??’

It ain’t over yet.

I have to walk the final 100yards to the CP through throngs of cheering people with Charlotte still having to prop me up.

Which is nice.

‘Lie down. Shade…’

‘Drags me up the steps and inside and…

Lights out.

It takes a wee while (and some fish and chips) until the paramedics are satisfied that enough of my lights are back on and the combination of race-long progressive energy depletion mixed with a nice helping of heat stroke is no longer a danger.

Unless I choose to continue.

And y’know? The prospect of a 16mile death march to the finish is just not something I could make matter enough.

Could I have done so were Charlotte and the boys not with me? We’ll never know.

They were and I called it.

For the record, Ben and Karen both finished – Karen to take 7th lady and top spot in her age group and Ben to record his first 100mile finish. Meanwhile at the sharp end on a day when 1 out of 3 starters did not finish, the course record of nearly 10 years standing was taken apart by some 40minutes.

After 5 finishes from 5 starts in this race I got to chalk up my first Did Not Finish.

Or Did Nothing Fatal.

And while I almost certainly will do something like this again, I’d really rather not experience something like this again.

Pass me that drawing board, will ya?

Race Video (6mins) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT6Jd6CQ3g0

Back To Competition - and Comedy Cramping

Alright smartarse, let’s see you get out of this one.

Because I am quite literally stuck – and it’s entirely of my own doing.

I’m a few minutes into my post-race reactions and rituals the latter of which involves heading to the nearest river for a full cold water bath.

Usually a thing of unbridled pleasure after a period of physical exertion.

This is particularly needed today as I’ve just finished 24miles and 6500’ of up-down that is a brand new race in The Lake District by my chums at Ascend Events - Thirlmere Trot

It’s been a bloomin’ hot four and a half hours of race effort, and while my training has been going well my racing is somewhat rusty: The last time I pinned a number on in anger was Feb 2020 just before the curtain came down on the world as we knew it.

The result of that is that I’ve neglected some stuff on the fuel front today which has had me battling the onset of full and repeated cramp attacks in both legs for the final 5miles or so of the race.

This was a real pisser as far as I was concerned ‘cos the final bit is a huge rocky plummet from 3000’ feet up on the top of Hellvelyn all the way to the finish in picturesque Grasmere in the valley below.

And I’m quite good at plummeting so my plan was to well, plummet.


What actually happened was that the Cramp Monster waged 5miles of downhill guerrilla warfare which forced me to constantly adjust how I moved in order to keep the attacks at guerrilla level and not escalate into full nuclear screaming writhing paralysis.

Which I did manage – at the cost of abandoning full killer-attack mode (sigh).

So here we are post-finish line and me with my defences down and the cramp monster sees an opening and goes full nuclear.

It starts innocuously enough - I drop my bumbag on the ground and make to scramble down the rocks into the river which triggers the first warning shot up both legs.

I know that the next one will be a real bastard and sure enough as I go to try again to bend down it’s all I can do to hold the yelp-scream in.

Then it’s full repeated strikes and it’s all I can do to hold myself upright on a handily positioned gate as my legs are locked in a vice and a few thousand volts are rammed through them while I do my best to keep the screaming inside.

‘Cos there are women and children watching.

Look mummy there’s a strange man over there wearing hardly any clothes making funny faces…

‘Figure it’s not like that in the Grasmere village brochures.

When the power of coherent speech returns and I can see straight again I realise there is a much easier way down to the river over the other side – and I’m right by a bridge.


The problem is that I dare not even think about bending down to retrieve my bumbag from ground level. I need an angel and there’s one standing watching the show a few yards away which watching out for her son to reach the finish line.

I give it my best beseeching look and feeble gesticulation between bag and bloke:

Would you mind..?

Bless her, she doesn’t and she does – and I’m able to drag-hobble-haul my bottom half across the bridge. There’s still some more funny faces and choice language to come as the cramp monster realises his window of opportunity is closing. The bastard gets in a few more sneaky strikes that nearly has my angel swooping to yet another rescue, but I manage enough of a rearguard action to give me some neurological control and the eventual reward of tipping forward blissfully into the welcoming cold embrace of the water.

Getting out was another matter.

And The Race?

‘You’re gonna win, right Dad?’ said our boys as though it was all a done deal.

Such is the level of expectation in our household.

Dad did indeed have private aspirations of being first back…

Dad also knew that it was smart to have a ton of other goals lined up to go with the sneaky private one that he had way more chance of being able to control.

Of course it started with a climb that came with its own bonus reality check as just before our leading group of 5 topped out at 1300’ the eventual race winner floated past and disappeared into the distance.

And he’d started 5mins behind us in another wave.

(A few hours later as I crossed the finish line I was somewhat mollified to see said winner still on the floor. Apparently a fridge had jumped on his back in the latter stages: Go Universe!).

Anyway, our group of 5 quickly became 3 with me and my two companions seemingly attached by elastic for the rest of the race changing positions as follows: I’d drop ‘em on the descents, they’d stretch it a bit on the hike climbs and I’d hold ‘em off on the flats.

Only problem was that in the first 15miles to the checkpoint there was only one big gnarly drop where I could do real damage.

So I amused myself with psychological warfare instead.

This involved not saying a damn thing other than what simple courtesy required.

Now I generally don’t do chat so the strong silent bit is not that much of a stretch for me – but what I’ve found over the years is that many people are unnerved by silence.

So I shut the f**k up and let ‘em be unnerved.

I also know where I’m going today and as I don’t do freebies when I’m racing I’m also paying attention to who appears to be navigationally challenged.

Mr Chatty & The Kid have dropped the navigation ball a few times already so I’m employing the tried and tested games that keep them just ahead of me: Stopping to tie a lace or pretend to have a pee are two of my favourites. This leaves me clear to take the best lines and keep momentum going while thinking un-charitable thoughts at the imagined scrambling going on around and behind me.

I’m quite lovely normally but pin a number on me…

Bubble-puncturing episode number two comes at around 90 mins in when eventual second place bloke eases past our cosy threesome a little less floaty than the winner.

I hit the checkpoint in 3rd and am in and out sharpish as I suspect that my two gadflies are not a million miles away and I want to get gone as out of sight means out of mind. It’s a choice I will rue as what I actually need to do is to linger a little more and take on more fuel – and savouries and fruit in particular. In the end it’s not catastrophic and I bless my depletion training that means I can still operate effectively on fumes – it’s just that everything becomes a damn sight harder.

Chatty & The Kid pass me around halfway up the 3000’ haul out of the checkpoint to the summit of Hellvelyn. They are both climbing well and still sound pretty comfortable. I silently doff a hat in their direction – look, I can do magnanimous - and plot revenge to be enacted as we come off the top and start the plummet.

It’s not to be.

I manage to keep them in sight at what I think is a bridge-able gap once I can embrace gravity – but the cramp monster has other ideas. Fortunately for me Mr Chatty has an even worse time of it and he is forced to let The Kid go.

I eventually gurn my way past him with around 400 yards to go to the finish after which he gets to watch my comedy cramp routine.

Score-draw all round then?

Solo & Self-Supported on the Lakeland100

Are you still doing this silly long distance running thing? They asked.

We’ve not heard about any for a while….

That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been any, of course – though I think my last post on a silly long distance theme was way back Feb 2020 when I had a little jaunt around Lands End The Arc of Attrition post 

Before the world changed.

So you’d be forgiven if you thought that was just a phase I had to go through.



There has been plenty of running but not any silly long distances of note – until last week.

I’ve had a very consistent year or so of training while we’ve been in-out of semi-lockdown and inevitably have taken the opportunity to change some stuff. 

It’s a boredom-samey thing and a willingness to keep poking the bear.

This has mainly involved doing more sustained running on the roads. That took some serious conditioning work to get the soft tissues ready for the battering and then 3 months on top of that before the lower leg muscles adapted enough to handle said battering without having me shuffle around for 3-5 days after a run.

Because fitness is specific.

Then back in November I got serious by starting a measured progression of two key sessions. One is an old favourite – well, favourite is a bit strong but it bloody works – that I used to do on the trails and am now doing a road version, while the other is new to me and is brutally simple: Run at a sustained best possible pace – usually without taking on anything to eat-drink – for way longer than you think you can on your tod.

What that means is as fast as you can for the target duration holding everything else as consistent as possible i.e. no slowing down.

It’s quite a balancing act.

My goal is to do 3 hours – and be OK the day after.

Six months later I’m up to 2 hours 15mins which I’ve now hit twice. 

And been perfectly fine the day after.

While this means nothing to anyone else except me, my 54 year young self is quietly chuffed.

So it appears my (road) running is fine – but how did that translate to this silly long distance usually over some mountains stuff? With Lakeland 100mile race www.lakleland100.com now 3 months away I figured I really ought to find out.

‘How would you feel if I had a trot round the Lakeland 100 route?’ I said to Mrs Mouncey.

(The race is pretty much a lap of the Lake District).

Raised eyebrows aside she went with it along with a few safeguarding must-dos if husband insisted on doing the whole thing solo (sigh).

Our boys didn’t bat an eyelid: Normal dad-shit as far as they were concerned.

Which was why I found myself walking away from car – yes, I know I locked it but I’m just going back to check, OK? - at the race start point in Coniston southern Lake District at 11am on a glorious and chilly morning. I’ve done this race five times now: The inaugural year 2008 when 30 people started and only 11 of us finished, 

then 2010, 




So it’s a bit like pulling on a favourite jumper that’s been hiding at the back of the drawer: It still fits, it still makes me smile – just some bits chafe a little after all this time…

I’ve decided that today is a day to practice the skills of FLOATY – focus on what you want, and all that. I’ve no idea what my climbing will be like, and while my descending has always been good I’ve not exactly being hammering down mountains recently – and the bit in the middle?

I dunno.

So the goal is economy of energy for as long as possible and how that plays out will be how that plays out. 

But I’ll know where I’m at from a proper field test: No guessing, no positive spin and no bullshit.

As I drop into Wasdale around the 20mile point being battered by a hailstorm some things have become apparent:

My climbing’s OK even if there’s no real power.

My descending is smooth enough.

And the big revelation is that the diet of sustained road running is translating very well to chugging along very easily on anything remotely runnable.

Which is nice.

Apart from texting Charlotte the race checkpoint name as I pass, (Agreed Safeguarding Rule 1a) I keep my phone off and watch hidden. At 26miles I do my only café stop* for tea, cake and sausage roll – I could race all day on tea I’m sure – and then head up to the final (by now chilly) high point and my first view of the northern Lake District town of Keswick in the distance and the race 35mile point. Sometime later I’m trotting down the high street having come to a number of conclusions:

I am under-prepared to go through what will be a very cold night solo in remote terrain – and while I have emergency/bivvy gear I am just not prepared to run the risk.

Aspiration to do the full distance was clearly just the beer talking.

With some sneaky adjusting I can still do half this thing, and half distance I’ll take as the goal here is to see where I’m at re race readiness – and I have most of that answer already.

The sneaky adjusting takes the form of a taxi ride south to Ambleside: I’d missed the last bus and on reflection was very happy to put a considerable fare into a local taxi driver whose income had all but disappeared in the last year. Pick up the race route here and follow it back to the start/finish in Consiton.

So that’s what I do arriving back at the car around midnight and 50miles to the good.

And just because it would be rude not to, a few days later I head back out and do the other 50miles I didn’t do first time around.

This time not a taxi in sight – just plenty of snow, sleet, hail and rain.

Which was nice.

Everything’s Relative

Someone will always trump your stuff – and I’m pretty certain that on my first Friday out I saw in the distance one Sabrina Vergee and support runners out on their little run round the Lakeland fells https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-VDvYqzXPA

Well, make that 214 summits to bag in around continuous 6 days if you want to set a record. At least, I know of no other reason that a small group of runners would be following a pathless fence-line if not to avoid unnecessary height-gain while linking summits as efficiently as possible. And the time and place fit with what I knew of her schedule. 

Anyway, what’s remarkable is not so much as what she was doing this week and what she has racked up over the last year (see video in the link below). A year that started with setting the third fastest time for this Round - and then declaring that she wasn’t happy with that and her mark shouldn’t stand as due to leg problems she had to lean on some folks coming down the last few mountains.

Holy shit! Went quite a few people.

Then a few short months later she was back for another shot.

Holy shit! Went quite a lot more people.

And with good reason: Take a peek at this:


*Comparing like with like of long self-propelled exploits is tricky so in an effort to do just that – essential when records are at stake - The Fellrunners Association have laid down some definitions.

Solo Self-Supported

You may have as much support as you can find along the way but not from any pre-arranged people helping you. This can range from caching supplies in advance, purchasing supplies along the way, to finding or begging for food or water.

Solo Un-Supported

Carry all you need from start to finish except water from natural sources. Public taps along the route are acceptable. Do not collect anything from a cache or leave anything for collection. Do not meet anyone on route. Accept no external support of any kind nor any contact where moral support is offered.

(Which means that the one brief café stop on each of my trips took me from SUS to SSS – though I suspect the taxi break during my first puts that one into a special category of its own that sounds a lot like Derision).