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.’

Well.

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.

NOTES

*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.

Ever.

(sigh)

START AGAIN.

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.

Refugees.

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.

Hmm.

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.

Apparently.

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?

50-50?

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.

SAFETY

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…

GIVE A S***

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.

Because:

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.

Notes

*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

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/her-majestys-prison-and-probation-service

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk

https://insidetime.org/

https://www.russellwebster.com/

https://www.clinks.org

http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk

https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk

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!

NOISE!

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.

Really.

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.

F**kwit.

(sigh).

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.

Hmm.

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.

Duh.

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.

Pause.

Nah.

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, 

2011, 

2018,

2019

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:

https://www.grough.co.uk/magazine/2021/05/03/sabrina-verjee-still-ahead-of-wainwrights-schedule-after-brutal-day-of-blizzards

*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).

Unintended Consequences

I had a little cry the night I finished the work at HMP Brinsford.

Which was a bit of a shock.

Mrs Mouncey and I went for a walkie-talkie when I got home that evening and, well…

Waterworks.

She took it rather well, I thought.

Here’s the thing: In the 8 years I’ve been in this kinda work nothing else has provoked a reaction like this – which begs the question why this and why now?

Not an insignificant number of easy biking and running hours later – this also doubles as my Making Sense of Stuff time - I arrived at some conclusions. Then I tested those conclusions with someone who knows me enough, has been in this line of work for way longer than me and who, I believe, really knows his onions.

Most of my group of young men were in their early 20’s but there were also a good number who were 19. My eldest son is 14 – which is only 5 short years away.

And as a parent that’s way too close for comfort.

Now I have done work with this age group previously but that has been with ‘at risk of offending’ groups in the community: This is a first for me to work with this group in a custodial setting. 

And here’s the thing about a custodial setting in the Spring of 2021: While covid restrictions ease in society in general prisons lag behind. For the last year there has been no education, no work-based training, no organised physical activity – and no family visits. 

There are reasons for this and I’ve written about those reasons previously - and the fact remains: My group have been mainly in their cells with very little to do and very few people to do it with – and a few were still experiencing the most basic version of that regime.

And to my eyes they’re still just kids – just with a very particular model of the world.

Not exactly master criminals either: Most are – to my mind anyway – doing time because they couldn’t control their emotions. They are in prison because of a crime of the heart in a moment in time – or two moments in the case of a second offence.

I’d argue that’s not a crime of the head – it’s not thought-through and it’s not organised.

You want to know what organised crime looks like? Try this:

Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France.

This was a deception that was meticulously planned and executed over multiple years that spanned continents, cost millions, emmeshed thousands and left broken people and livelihoods in its wake - oh, and all covered by the elaborate smokescreen that was his charity work.

Where is he now? 

Still got his house and family and some people are still giving him employment.

What’s he lost? Seven yellow T-shirts, a few sponsors and not that much of his fortune. 

(He also settled a few things out of court, a few folks quite reasonably took their awards back and he got stuck with a life ban - but seems to have fared considerably better than your average 19year old at HMP Brinsford). 

Though I do very occasionally wonder what his kids think of it all.

So yeah: That’s organised crime.

And a justice gap the size of the Grand Canyon.

That’s just a particularly high-profile example from the world of sport. Other examples from business and politics are also available. If you really want to depress yourself you can come up with your own list – though I figure you’ll throw in the towel in disgust long before you run out of examples.

And that, right there is what I think got me: I experienced what I experienced with my group AND I’m aware of this other sh**.

They’re just kids.

Not a million miles away from mine.

It’s not fair – and it’s not right.

Everybody Hurts

This work at HMP/YOI Brinsford is funded by HM Prison & Probation Service through Clinks Covid19 Winter Support Grant Programme.

We’ve just set a bomb off.

Or opened a sack of boiling feral tomcats and released them into a confined space. 

Take your pick.

That this is part of the plan is no comfort to me at all – it’s just that no plan survives first contact with reality and in this case reality has smacked me in the kisser as well.

One week later and it’s Day 3 & 4 at HMP Brinsford and the plan said we grow the first group of 4 and add another 6-8. So we took nominations and made final selections and brought a new 8 to meet our original 4…our original 4 all of whom if not exactly on the same page as me with this work are at least looking at the same book – whereas it looks and sounds like our new 8 would take those pages make a tube out of ‘em and use that to smoke the contents of a teabag.

(Sigh).

It actually started well because we started at pace with some fizz outside (physical activity) that had them moving and doing and grunting and gasping and grinning. But as soon as I loosened the leash and we moved onto some of the essential head stuff the cohesion and compliance slipped. 

I’d positioned our original 4 as informal mentors to the new lads – we’ll be looking to you to look after ‘em - but they weren’t stepping up and I watched in growing despair as peer pressure/expectations worked its insidious sabotage into our carefully constructed group dynamics from last week.

Bollocks.

Somehow we vaguely kept it on track-ish through the morning but it was guerrilla warfare the whole way. My staff support G had a face like thunder and was clearly plotting ritualistic slaughter as retribution. You could say he had cause: Many of these lads had asked – politely and repeatedly he’d told me – to join us. And he’d done the grunt work for them so it could happen.

So he was pissed.

I’d lost it twice through the morning and said things I just shouldn’t have said. 

That I knew it right away, did an internal cringe and did my best to salvage was of no comfort: I’d f**ked up and that was bad.

So much for being cool under fire then.

This Is Not The Way.

Lunchtime was an Emergency Summit: We had a frank exchange and changed some stuff. And thank goodness it worked: By the end of the day we finished with the same number of lads that we’d started with – and retaining is a big win with this stuff – and we were all in a better place than we were a few hours earlier.

And we knew that ‘cos we’d checked and asked.

‘Must’ve been quite a day though because even after a chance to decompress during my two and a quarter hour drive home, Mrs Mouncey later informed me that Husband returned wearing a nice shade of Haunted and Hunted.

Which she normally sees at the end of a particularly traumatic 100 mile race.

Other Eyecatchers

Pants & Pockets

Hands are typically carried one of two places: Down the front of pants or in the pockets. This applies even when trying The Floor Is Lava for the first time (see below). If pockets it’s probably not to play with personal parts but to facilitate…

Vaping

F**kin’ vaping

All but two of my 12 vape and most of them seem compelled to partake almost unconsciously on average every 77 seconds. They’ve all mastered the Reach & Draw action to the point that it’s almost unseen by the casual observer. Unfortunately (for them) that doesn’t apply to the smoke. Now we did have this with our first 4 but to nowhere near this level – it’s like there’s some sort of herd mechanism accelerant at work.

I’ve chosen to give them the chance to manage it by having periodic breaks – I got them down to 4mins from a starting ask of 15 (go me) - making a written agreement with me (they sign) and then burpees in front of the group when they break it. 

Except they’ve all given the finger to that and just giggle and take the burpees and the point-scoring among their peers that comes with it.

It’s an absolute bastard nightmare and a source of total and utter sabotage to the work.

One of the staff remarked to me: ‘If this was a few years ago they’d be on cigarettes and that would be way worse.’ Except I don’t buy that because there’s more faff factor with a fag and a lighter and part of the problem with vaping is it’s too damn easy to do: One item and one action.

Almost as if it were designed that way…

I’m not generally given to violent urges but this makes me want to scream and smash things. I figure there’s got to be some rules about this somewhere but I’m f**ked if I can figure out what they are.

Time

Most are preoccupied with Time:

What time is it?

What time will it finish?

What time is lunch?

Repeatedly.

Now logically I know that at least part of the reason for this is that their lives are normally driven by structure and requirements to be escorted to a certain place for a certain time. And Certainty is a currency in here: The familiarity of something happening at a certain time is something to grab on to.

But I’m like:

Really? 

You have other places to be at the moment?

Other more pressing engagements?

A packed social calendar?

???????!!!

My self-indulgent verging on incredulous monologue rarely gets more than an embarrassed shrug. My Level Two repost then kicks in:

‘It’s time to be here with me and everyone else enjoying this thing right here right now: That’s what time it is.’

‘Fairly sure that’s not the response they’re looking for either.

The Floor Is Lava

Is a raging hit with a 5 star review.

Who knew?

We set up an inside course, an outside course, did team and solo challenges and everyone threw themselves into it and even had hands out of pockets by their second lap.

I thanked all gods great and small that I’d perfected my TFIL methodologies with our boys as part of lockdown PE – so I wasn’t short of ideas.

Nobody broke anything either – utterly remarkable: ‘You ever seen a pocket rhinoceros do TFIL?

Everyone Gives A Shit

There were moments that afternoon when we were given a glimpse of the real inside. 

Guerrilla warfare went on pause and the real stuff came out. 

I’d wanted to test some of the headlines about life inside during lockdown and to check our Big 4 issues from last week and so had been building up to questions along the lines of:

What do you do all day if you’re in cell for 22-23 hours?*

(Watch TV, use the phone, write letters**

How do you cope?

(Get my head down, get on with it – it’s not that bad***)

Which brought us round to those people who choose to cope by fronting it out – the ‘I Don’t Give A Sh**’ brigade – not just during lockdown but in prison in general.

And suddenly right there all my 12 were on the same page – their replies showing maturity beyond their years and the hurt of experience:

That’s bollocks: Everyone hurts – everyone gives a sh**’

It took me a few days reflection to realise that I’d been wrestling with my own inner conflict that day too – and the nature of my day was therefore at least in part due to bits of my inside popping up on my outside.

Without knowing any more detail than I know already through my work, I know that being in prison during a pandemic is – for want of a better phrase - a pretty shitty experience.

And it’s still going on for my 12 and it ain’t over either.

So I just wanted to be kind.

To cut ‘em some slack.

Because everybody hurts.

*A handful of my group were

**This is less common that you might think as many struggle to read and write fluently

***Which begs the question ‘Compared to what?’

Timeline RFYL CIC

So you think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in. 

This is what it takes for a new social enterprise with One Big Idea to get going in our Justice sector – as lived by Andy Mouncey of Run For Your Life CIC www.runforyourlife.org.uk 

Timeline To Date

2012 First invitation to a Category C prison. Project pulled pre-start 

2013 First short pilot delivered (unpaid) at a Cat D prison

2014-16 More testing – more pilots – still no ££

2016 RFYL Conception. Doors open–doors close-funding bids/rejected

2017 RFYL Community Interest Company formed. Doors open-close/bids (sad face)

2018 Doors open–close/bids etc: Getting boring now. Still no ££

2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid) 

2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes

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

2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown

2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut

2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP Brinsford

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

Can We See The Chickens Again?

This work at HMP/YOI Brinsford is funded by HM Prison & Probation Service through Clinks Covid19 Winter Support Grant Programme.

The chickens stole the show. 

Who knew?

My 4 twenty-something lads spent endless minutes seemingly captivated by the clucking pecking ground-based beasties that were roaming around in their enclosure 100 yards from our base of operations.

And then there was the pond – full of exotic fish if you believed the exclamations. 

Again, endless minutes spent crouched at the edge…

I’d clocked the garden during my warm up visit and added it my list of ‘Must Do.’ 

Dr Michelle Baybutt has spent countless hours building the case for gardens and growing to be an essential part of rehabilitation in prison under the delightfully titled banner GOOP (Greener On the Outside for Prisons) https://www.uclan.ac.uk/research/activity/greener-on-the-outside-for-prisons

I just know that being outside in the green stuff is good and I take it for granted – except that’s my privilege. If all I do is bring my lads outside I know I’ll be ahead on the scoreboard: GOOP: Get Outside Or Perish.

This was the morning of Day 2 (of 2) and the green and pleasant land had wrapped my little group in Nature’s equivalent of a comfort blanket.

Calm had descended after a somewhat fraught start.

We’d started the day spending frikkin’ ages persuading our pocket rhinoceros Luke to stop throwing smokescreens and make good on his commitment to see the two days through. He’d worked on a wonderfully creative set of reasons/excuses to hide the underlying theme: ‘Just Can’t Be Arsed.’

We were actually treading a fine line here. I had our other 3 lads with me – yes, for those of you that read the previous piece that does mean I have a group of 4 not six, and a slightly different 4, and a member of staff but a different member of staff. All fairly normal so far – and the longer we spent with Luke the more pissed off they were becoming.

Because bless him, he was not exactly class favourite after yesterday’s attention-seeking performance (sigh).

Except I knew it was all bullshit and my staff wingman G had been clear that one of the measures of a good day today was that Luke see it through.

And the value of turning him and keeping him would be huge – for him.

So he was coming – whether he knew it or not.

Eventually we had a full roll again and I made straight for the garden where we lingered – and allowed uncharitable thoughts to drain away through the soil.

We lingered and I watched what could have been toddlers exploring a farm.

For the first time?

So I checked: ‘Have any of you been here before?’

No.

That would explain it then.

Start again.

The crown jewels moment had come right at the end of Day 1. I kinda knew I’d be up against the Clueless Shouty Dickhead test and they’d clearly decided that I wasn’t because at 7 hours in they were where we wanted them: speaking freely from the heart.

Consistent with my operating model of ‘Just do it – learn, then do it again’ these first two days were all about giving them some of my stuff to test drive and giving them reasons to open up about what they needed so I could be clear about how I could help them help themselves and each other. 

One week later we’d have another pair of days where I’d be older and wiser, we’d adjust the content from Day 1 & 2 and be confident enough to add more men to the group. 

And the same again for Day 5 & 6 Week 3. 

I figured I could anticipate well enough what they wanted – interaction, blow the cobwebs out, just get out and have something different for chrissakes…

And probably cake: Lots of cake.

But what did they actually need? That was a different question the answers to which would come after we’d ticked the Want boxes well enough.

Give ‘em what they want first so the need becomes apparent.

‘Thing was, I’d no idea how long that would all take and what exactly would need to happen to get there. That was more a stretch for the prison used as they were to operating a controlled environment with no surprises. And here’s me coming in pitching a modus operandi along the lines of I just need to do some stuff to figure out exactly what I need to do for you – but I’m not exactly sure what that stuff is – yet. 

You Ok with that?

Blless ‘em, they were.

So in front of the lads I’m doing my best projected ‘ Yes I’m here because I give a sh** about you’ (through a mask) keeping them going and getting heading outside more often than not: Being genuine and trusting my process and content.

And towards the end of the day we got their The Big Four:

1. Physical activity outside – team challenge format please

2. Care of self and cell

3. Time and space to talk about the sh** we want (and need) to talk about

4. Advocacy: To be able to reach others with this

It’s been tougher than I thought and on reflection I home in on two reasons. 

One is the obvious practical one that has affected much of the delivery while the second has taken me by surprise:

1.Doing this with mask and Covid restrictions

2.The lads have actually got comfortable with lethargy – and breaking out of that is hard

But break out we did and the morning of Day 2 was Physically Active Learning turned up to Number 11 https://www.naht.org.uk/news-and-opinion/news/pupil-support-and-safeguarding-news/physically-active-learning-key-research-and-resources/ I was a happy boy ‘cos I’d got my crown jewels and we were all a bit more relaxed together: everything else was cream on the top. There was just one last request before we finished:

‘Can we see the chickens again?’

Timeline RFYL CIC

So you think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in. 

This is what it takes for a new social enterprise with One Big Idea to get going in our Justice sector – as lived by Andy Mouncey of Run For Your Life CIC www.runforyourlife.org.uk 

Timeline To Date

2012 First invitation to a Category C prison. Project pulled pre-start 

2013 First short pilot delivered (unpaid) at a Cat D prison

2014-16 More testing – more pilots – still no ££

2016 RFYL Conception. Doors open–doors close-funding bids/rejected

2017 RFYL Community Interest Company formed. Doors open-close/bids (sad face)

2018 Doors open–close/bids etc: Getting boring now. Still no ££

2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid) 

2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes

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

2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown

2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut

2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP Brinsford

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