Doors Slam Shut

By Andy Mouncey, March 27, 2020

Breaking In

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

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

Timeline To Date

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 28

Times I've Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4 

Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2

Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1

Doors Slam Shut

Even before Mother Earth decided to put us all on the naughty step it was all starting to look very bleak for the future of my prison work at HMP Wymott. 

Buoyed by the success of the three programs I figured my stock was on the rise. I had 24 carot leverage and a reputation for making cool shit happen. I figured I'd earned my stripes in their world and now it was their turn: I mean – how could they not take this forward??

I was acutely aware of the need to bridge from end of program to normal life for my graduates…Because here's what happens to people in prison after a transformational experience:

Expectations of themselves are raised.

Their expectations of others are raised.

Unless that second expectation is met the disillusion with people/'the system' is verging on catastrophic and the crash back down puts the participants in a worse place than when they started – the 'I knew it was all too good to be true'/ Give hope then snatch it away scenario.

It’s therefore vital that enough of the right staff take it on and key rituals, practice and principles of my stuff are incorporated into normal operational procedures.

My funding didn't stretch to this so I'd been trying informally to create a bridge of sorts. Post third program I tried again on my own time and expense:

‘Could I…?' No.

‘May I…?' No.

‘I'd like to…?' No.


Doors slammed shut one after the other – and while the reasons I were given were utterly plausible it didn't take long for me to come up with my own sinister conspiracy theory:

I'd pissed too many people off by showing them up doing my cool shit in their house and now the formal commitment was over they were giving me the finger.

I couldn't get hold of my advocates on the inside to check my conspiracy theory – they were fire-fighting normal prison chaos – so my theory got even more sinister with me doing world-class Despondency:

What The !@**£!!! Do I Need To Do Here? Gouge my eyes out with a friggin' spoon??

If three successful programs were not going to get me through the door on a longer term basis I was genuinely at a loss to know what on earth was.

Through all this Mother Earth was warming us up for Some Really Bad Shit – but as the UK government clearly wasn't paying attention why the heck should we? Fortunately there were those in this sector who were paying attention and could make a good stab at where this could go. 

Then Shit Got Real and suddenly my angst just didn't feel that important anymore.

Good practice and regulation scrambled to keep pace as events unfolded around the world and the statistics told their own shocking story. Still it seemed enough people in this country were hell-bent on doing Oblivion to the unfolding bigger picture – and in prison the unfolding bigger picture is, well…

Think of prisons as the land-based version of cruise ships: If infection gets in then it's pretty much curtains for everyone else. 

Except you can quarantine a ship out at sea.

And we're only talking about a few hundred people at a time.

Here in the UK the court system was/is still operating as are family visits to prisons. 

There are very good reasons for both of these but less so when it comes to stopping a pandemic.

Staff are also travelling to work and home, all of which means people are coming and going - and as we all now know it's movement and proximity of PEOPLE that is the problem.

There are 90,000 people in our prisons. Plus families. Plus staff.

And we've all seen the mathematical infection models…

Then more and more staff were having to stay away from work and finally the prison system got its place in the headlines as the two nuclear options went on the table:

1. Release people from prison who are elderly and serving short sentences

2. Draft people into prison to fill the gaps left by absent staff

Both have massive implications but are also just two more questions to add to our growing ‘Big Shit We Have Never Really Contemplated' list.

I've told Wymott I'd be up for Number 2.

Mrs Mouncey is not exactly happy about that and less so as the days go by and we learn more about what's at stake here. I'm not exactly jumping for joy either but if over 400,000 people can volunteer for the NHS…

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