Can We See The Chickens Again?

By Andy Mouncey, March 25, 2021

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)

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?’


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 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 

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

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Photo Credits: Phil   Summit Fever  and  Racing Snakes