I’ve spent much of the last two years trying to figure the right combination to the door of the Justice sector so that I can get the damn thing open and start working there with my new venture www.runforyourlife.org.uk
Some of you will know this if you get the newsletters – but what you wont know is how often I am asked the ‘Why The Hell Would You?’ question.
The conversations that come after often prove thought provoking or troubling for that person depending on your point of view. Lazy assumptions are challenged and beliefs are poked at – which is exactly what happened to me when I first got into this and I didn’t much like it either.
I’ve written periodically about my experiences and given the rising level of curiosity I’m receiving have decided to reproduce them here over the next few weeks sprinkled innocently among the running stuff. Headlines hitting the media from our Justice sector are almost all negative right now and have been for a long time. And while there are good people doing great stuff hidden in there the task before them is shockingly daunting. What has become clear to me in these two years is that as ever, the solution involves us all not least because of this:
‘Today’s offenders are tomorrow’s neighbours.’ Phil Novis, Governor HMP Leicester
Inside: A View From The Outside
First written April 2017
Prison. A subject for which there’s no middle ground for many people – which is interesting because if at least one of the key functions is to stop re-offending, then as institutions they are failing miserably: In the UK around 6 out of 10 prisoners will re-offend within a year of release.
I’m in the process of securing a first pilot program in the prison estate as we seek to make our contribution to reducing re-offending by taking a radical approach to learning: Running and triathlon-based education programs. No, clearly we can’t take ‘em to the local swimming pool – which just means the physical challenge part becomes gym-based.
It’s not the first time I’ve been ‘inside’ – a couple of years ago I did a test version of this at an Open prison, and before that I’d visited a Category C. But walking round a city centre Cat B prison for the first time is something else: 500 men housed in what are mainly forbidding Victorian structures – and it’s a veritable melting pot: Detainees, serious offenders, lifers, those on remand, young offenders, those awaiting re-settlement, minor offenders and vulnerable prisoners.
During my last visit they walked me through the process a new arrival experiences prior to their first night.
‘And we’ll take you onto the wings as well, Andy – including the segregation wing and the mental health wing. OK?’
Of course it wasn’t. But if I was going to be any damn use to them with this program I needed to experience their world.
The segregation wing houses men who are in danger from general population, are a danger to themselves, or are a danger to general population. I see the trashed cells – my brain struggling to process the damage a crazed human being can do to reinforced structures and fittings. Then the mental health wing – spotlessly clean - then onto the general wings: Blocks of 100 cells stacked on three floors just like you see on the telly. It’s normal routine which means cells are unlocked and prisoners are on the landing. We walk through – upto the top floor and back again. All the while I’m doing my best to project the same front as my escort so that – orange shirt aside – the men see and hear something familiar.
But inside? That’s a very different story.
Back outside my heart rate starts to settle and my escort grins knowingly at me:
‘So how what that?’
I do my best to bring order to the inner turmoil: ‘Setting aside what we think about crime and punishment, that was…sobering. Intimidating. Unsettling…’
A nod. ‘Yeah, not many people from outside get to experience what you just did….’
I’m still struggling to make sense of what I think but one thing I do know – if more people walked the walk I just took our country would be better for it.