This Is Not The Way*

By Andy Mouncey, June 19, 2020

(*With apologies to those of you that have yet to find Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian on Disney+ )

So Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) said ‘No’.

In fairness what I actually got back was along the lines of ‘ We know you’ll be very disappointed and it was a very difficult decision with a high standard of bids but we only had £300k and we received 100 applications in 4 weeks…’

Can’t say it’s unfamiliar territory for me but this one stung:

F**k it.

I self-indulgently swung between rage and resignation for a short time - with the odd dose of powerlessness thrown in for good measure. I’d worked bloody hard on this one to reposition my stuff and come up with something that could work, would work and that no-one else could do.

I’d consulted extensively and tested repeatedly.

I’d had to really fight to create some clear headspace among the homeschooling and family stuff so I could think clearly and get this right.

And I was acutely aware that people I knew on the frontline were either locked in boxes and going quietly mad or looking after people locked in boxes going quietly mad.

No end in sight and government were actually building more boxes

I wanted to be in there.

F**k it, I needed to be in there.

But the front door remained shut.

This Is Not The Way.

It clearly wasn’t the way because if there was one trend that has been constant for me in 7 years of trying to break into the criminal justice system it has been that formal channels – the front door method - have remained closed.

So in the big scheme of things this was just the latest example of that.

It’s just that this time I’d read the tea leaves and chosen to believe that they actually DID want different and innovative and effective.

‘Cos extraordinary times really do need extraordinary measures, right?

And I’d earned my stripes for FFS.

But as one of my contacts remarked to me this week: 

‘It’s nothing personal Andy - The Service is just not that good at procuring specialists who work in ways we don’t recognize.’

So I took one of the bits of my Frontline Lifeline package and ran with it anyway.

I’d proposed ways that I would support four groups of people:

People serving sentences

Families of people serving sentences

Prison staff

Prison governors

Now I knew the first group had been a popular target for many providers who answered the call for what was essentially Distraction Therapy. Except as one senior member of a prison management team told me: ‘We’ve actually been inundated with material for the men which is great except for one thing – the range has been huge: Everything from a doctoral thesis standard to a coloring book. ‘Much of it actually useless. Now I know your stuff wont be but it’s a crowded market so if I were you I wouldn’t go there…’

Fair enough.

I also knew the Staff and Families bit would be a stretch. I’d figured out how I could work within the restrictions AND I’d tested it repeatedly with people I knew on the frontline – but it would need a proper Thinking Differently mindset of behalf of those doing the procuring.

Which left Prison Governors – the Forgotten Few - and who looks after the people at the top?

I knew that there was support available to these people and what that support was - ‘cos I’d done my homework.

I knew that support wasn’t typically taken up and I also knew why – that’s homework again.

I also knew that if you’re in a leadership and a giving role that you need to look after yourself first (Take) so that you can Give (and Lead) of your best. And you need to do that regularly and proactively especially if you’re in a complex, challenging, high stakes environment with no end to the shit times in sight.

I ALSO knew that the prison service has their senior people conducting good practice reviews by looking back in excruciating detail at the times and occasions when shit goes wrong.

They don’t look up, they don’t look forward and they don’t focus on the good stuff and share the lessons.

We’ll start there then.

So I got three of my advocate prison governors together on Zoom – other platforms are available – to refine a facilitated process of my design during which they:

Unload the shit and ask for help

Share the good stuff

Look ahead to what’s coming over the hill

We booked an hour, we used two and they want more. Well, that’s normal for this breakthrough stuff…

Back to HMPPS then:

We know there’s a need and a gap.

We’ve got this to fill that gap and help your people.

We’ve tested it.

They want it.

You wanna taste it too?


This Is Not The Way.

My way is clearly going to have to be through a back door, sneaky passage or teleportation. I need to be funded from outside the Justice sector – and that’s probably Health – or bring my own funds to the party. All of which is an interesting proposition given the current state of the country’s finances with many sectors on the knees and heading rapidly down from there. 

The picture in Justice was painted to me this week as follows:

‘We were told to spend money to save lives – and we did. They (government) stepped back a bit and let us get on and do it. We did and it worked – we actually had some autonomy again. Now it’s closing in and we’re being told to save money ‘cos we’ve ‘overspent’. That’s a f**kin’ joke – in the big scheme of things that ‘overspend’ is equivalent to my bar bill. They want to see what’s coming next ‘cos the cost of getting us out of this will dwarf anything that’s been spent so far.’

A New Hope

Two days ago my corporate sponsor Kebbell Homes renewed their commitment to support my work for a second year. They had no idea how timely their renewal was. I re-print some of the content of my letter to them here:

Your Money Matters

The historical and dominant culture within our prison system is one that is risk averse and inward-looking in which everyone and everything is viewed with suspicion from the outset. It’s a political hot potato – it’s a brave and rare politician that will set their stall on radical and long term reform – and yet how well prisons to their job – rehabilitation – affects us all. 

This means that getting the prison service to accept something new, different, innovative and effective from ‘outside’ is fraught with difficulty: Protracted courtship, hoop-jumping, endless meetings, travel and false starts. It all costs time and money – and if you’re not being paid to do any actual work with ‘em then it’s YOUR time and money.

The money from Kebbell is an utter godsend: It helps me stay alive, feed the family and stay sane while trying to find a way to break in. It IS possible and there are people with influence doing great work - but finding them takes longer and usually takes you on a very different route.

The Mission Remains

Most of the 80,000 souls currently behind bars in this country will be released. This means someone somewhere is coming to your neighborhood – and you’d want them to play by the same rules as you, right?

The gold standard test of rehabilitation is the Reoffending Rate: How many people will commit another offence in the first 12 months after they are released from prison. That figure stands at 6-7 out of 10 – a level that has not shifted for decades. I still want to do something about that.

The Mission Just Got Harder 

Prisons are still in almost total lockdown – in part because this policy has effectively controlled the CV-19 infection rates. The flip-side is men and women confined to cells for up to 23 hours a day without any work-related activities, education, training or visits. Those being released are entering a very different world with an economy in recession. 

Restrictions are set to stay in place for prisons while the rest of society makes a transition to ‘normal’. Service providers like me remain locked out. Many in the sector think this is a ticking time bomb – but however this does play out one undeniable truth remains: The need for this work will be even greater.

I remain committed to finding a way. I have little idea of what that is yet – but your support means I can stick with it.

This Is The Way.

Thank you.

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