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By Andy Mouncey, Mar 18 2019 09:02AM

With a few days to go before I’m due at HMP Stafford here’s a piece I originally wrote just over a year ago. When you walk in the world of crime-punishment-rehabilitation it’s easy to forget that for most people that world might as well be another planet: An alternate reality below the horizon – questions about which remain largely unconsidered. They need time to catch up – ‘cos it can be a bit of a shock when it unexpectedly appears over the horizon…

Now I’ve had a longggggg time to get my head around why this stuff is important to me and what my contribution could be. I’ve also had to go to work periodically on my insides in order to be at peace with working with those who have broken the law – and done so sometimes in a way that turns my stomach. I’ve done that and moved on – but forget that some of my friends are still catching up. ‘Case in point recently…

I have an ultrarunning client-friend who is based abroad and is periodically in the UK on business. We hook up and I do the local tour guide bit out on the hills so he can get his fix without having to think too hard about it. Last weekend we were on Pendle Hill in Lancashire on a stunning clear cold day. We’d just hurtled down a descent making aeroplane noises – as you do - and he asks how the prison stuff is going:

‘I’m talking to some new ones.’ I reply ‘One of them has a high number of older inmates – that will be new for me – and also people who are incarcerated for sex offences. That will also be new.’

I’m not looking at him at the time but it’s as if the shutters slam. He goes dead quiet and I can feel the withdrawal. I let the silence stretch because I trust him to try and make the bridge. Sure enough…

‘Andy.’ Another huge pause as he wrestles with emotional and intellectual…

‘You have kids. I have kids…You’re a smart guy and you’ve clearly thought about this…’

Indeed I have.

So I do my best to articulate how I’ve squared the circle:

‘I’ve had to go to work on my insides. I still have to do it periodically - it’s still a work in progress and this is where I’m at with it all:

Park what you think you believe about crime and punishment ‘cos that’s a different question. What do we want our justice system to do? Punish AND return to society as a law-abiding citizen.

Except in this country we do the first bit really well but are truly awful at the second bit because at least six out of ten people will re-offend in the first year after release from prison. And that stat has remained stubbornly high for decades. The courts do the punishment bit – that’s sentencing, loss of liberty etc – the prisons should do the ‘return to society’ bit – that’s rehabilitation.

Except the stats say they don’t – they punish. Again.

As a father of two boys I want to know that those who have committed offences will play by the rules on release. ‘Cos nearly all WILL be released. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder and neither do you. What they’ve done – why they done it – that’s not my bag and I don’t go there because I can’t affect it.

The reality is that they’ve been convicted, that’s where they are and they will be released. Somewhere. My stuff is re-education and transition: They start again – most have 30, 40 years of life left - and they contribute to society. Well, I can affect that – I think.‘

Big pause all round and a weak grin.

‘It may sound like I’ve got it all squared away and I think I have. I’ve had the ‘Why is Daddy helping people in prison conversation’ with our boys and I passed that test – I think. And I also expect to be tested like never before ‘cos this is new for me too.

But I think it’s the right thing to do and I believe I can. ‘Guess we’ll find out about that too.’

By Andy Mouncey, Mar 8 2019 11:26AM

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 incorporation. Doors open-close/bids (sad face)

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

2019: Wayyyy too far in to give up now…

The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 19

Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4

Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2

Why Are You Here?

Why indeed.

I’ve had a long time to go to work on my own inside and figure this one out and a fair few encounters to test how it hangs together when I speak it out loud.

My questioner is one of the 12 men sitting in front of me in the immaculate sports hall at HMP Stafford – the group I will be working with later this month – and this is us at First Encounter stage.

So I choose from my files, look him in the eye and pray at least some of my answer resonates:

‘You’re all going to be released – most people on the inside are – and right now the figures tell us that 6 out of every 10 will re-offend and be back inside in a year. Now I’m a husband and a father…’ (Too late a warning light flashes and a little voice wonders if that was too much information Andy? There are rules about that here…Well, it’s out now so I plough on doing Direct & From The Heart knowing that these men can smell bullshit a mile off).

‘…and if you’re going to be my neighbor I want you playing by the same rules as I do. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder. Now I can bitch about that or help do something about it. I have done some stuff in an open prison before which showed me that I have something that will improve your chances on the outside. We want to figure out what that might look like here at Stafford and we want your help to do that.’

Pause and smile.

‘If you’ve got the time, that is.’

Hints of smiles to go with my small sigh of relief. That seemed to work…

I’m here for half a day doing some essential pre-start planning with Gavin who heads up the PE team. I could do this from 150miles away but I need to experience the place again and Gavin needs to be reassured that three days in my company is indeed going to hit the spot on many levels and he doesn’t need to have eyes and ears in the back of his head any more than usual.

And I’ve asked to meet the men that Gavin has recruited from criteria that we’ve agreed.

While this bit is clearly bloody crucial, the meat of this visit is this:

I’ve brought a draft Cunning Plan for Gavin to throw rocks at.

Before any throwing starts however, we’re going to do what any good planning process should do: Start At The End (With Success In Mind).

‘So Gavin: What does a successful 3 days for you look like?’

Now I know this already ‘cos I’ve asked him before – but I like to check, he may have changed his mind and I’m acutely aware that I need to role model every relevant aspect of my world and my skillset. And when we’re talking High Performance, this is just standard good practice.

‘What about your team?’

‘The men?’

‘HMP Stafford?’

Then we clear the decks so the throwing can start.

Actually, it’s all pretty painless:

‘A pre-breakfast early workout – outside if possible?’

Yes. Need to make some adjustments to the un-locking routine on the wing but it can happen.

‘Communal eating for all meals?’

This is a biggie for me – so much can be achieved sitting down together over shared food – and to Gavin’s credit he only flinches slightly.

‘Okayyyy…need to think this through some more and speak to Catering…’ So we do just that later on and come away with a thumbs-up.

‘Outside options through the day?’

Yes. There is an astro turf yard right outside.

And so it goes on with remarkably little sticking points – and while admittedly I’m not exactly starting from scratch knowledge-wise when designing something for a place like this, it is still very reassuring when an hour or so later Gavin and I are looking at a workable plan.

Or as they say in the movies: This shit just got real.

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