By Andy Mouncey, Jul 17 2020 03:56PM
The story so far
Frontline Lifeline is a Covid-19 support package for prison governors, staff, men and women serving sentences and their families.
Our contribution to the mission of rehabilitation is to create communities of mutual support on the inside that move on and become a force for good on the outside.
We use coaching, training and mentoring to help these people take charge of their physical health, think clearly under pressure and manage their mood in a complex, changing, challenging environment.
This work stopped in March as prisons entered lockdown and we’ve been unable so far to get invitations and funding to re-start our work with those serving time.
Four months on and we find ourselves supporting prison governors instead.
How on earth did that happen?
Locked down and locked out.
It took 7 years for me to transition from first contact with the criminal justice system – an invitation to work with an education partner in a prison that ultimately came to naught – to first paid contracted program work at HMP Wymott Theraputic Community.
We were in the throes of bridging from that first work https://www.bigandscaryrunning.com/blog/4584755693/A-Glimpse-Of-The-Real-Inside/11437358 to next when Covid-19 hit and everything stopped.
If the implications weren’t so serious I would have laughed hysterically just to stop myself gouging my eyes out with a spoon in despair. This work was never supposed to be a walk in the park – but, really??
Everyday since then I’ve thought about the 33 men and 4 staff who were on my program and in my care.
They say you shouldn’t get emotionally involved – ha!
How are you supposed to connect with people if you’re just pretending?
I have self-care strategies so I can give a sh** and stay sane. And they work – mostly…
I was still in contact with senior staff and I could read the reports and press clearly enough: Infection rates were being controlled but those of us who walk in this world with our eyes open knew that the physical, mental and emotional cost was high and rising even if hard data to back that up was hard to come by.
I needed to be in there.
I wanted to be in there.
Getting the green light to do so was proving a bitch.
I tried – really, I tried https://www.bigandscaryrunning.com/blog/4584755693/This-Is-Not-The-Way*/11453960
Needing an outlet for my angst above and beyond hard physical training sessions that produced a temporary respite – otherwise known as Self-Care Strategy Number 7a - I targeted Chris from Run For Your Life’s informal advisory group.
Chris is a former trouble-shooter for a major global oil company - so he’s been around the block a few times. Conversation turned from Process to People and Culture: We both knew (‘cos we’d done it) that if you’re serious about changing a culture you can start at the chalk face – that’s the work I’d done at HMP Wymott pre-lockdown – then you go to the top of the food chain with the senior role models and then you meet in the middle with the staff.
I could also see that there was a ton of support going in to people isolated and serving sentences and to a lesser extent frontline staff.
But who was supporting the people coordinating the support?
Who was looking after the governors?
Ironically I’d found it easier to reach the prison governors I knew during lockdown in part because their operations on-site were simpler – less people/moving - and they had way less meetings to attend.
So if I called they’d answer the phone.
Apart from being an unexpected bonus this meant I could check what was really happening on the ground – as opposed to what was being reported in the press – be clear from them what was coming next and do a needs analysis by stealth.
Governors were also isolated – much of their networking and professional development had stopped – and the mission was now way different and the stakes even higher.
Different times need different measures and I’d made a career out of doing stuff differently. I’d also spent two decades doing corporate coaching in one form or other.
I figured I had the mindset and the skillset and I knew where the need was.
I also had some funding from our corporate sponsor.
I needed help – that would be Chris – and I needed a start point.
I went with my favorite from The Idiots’ Guide To Coaching:
‘If you need to make a breakthrough but you don’t know how to start just do the opposite to the historical norm and the pieces of the solution will present themselves.’
The initial advocate group of 3 has now grown so we are about to enter the second phase of this work. It has been a big shift and one that was in no way planned – but it means we can continue to actively contribute rather than cheering from the sidelines.