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By Andy Mouncey, Mar 29 2019 02:04PM

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 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: Too far in to give up – so it’s this year or bust!

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

Don’t Be Shit

A last look at the bloke in the mirror: ‘Just don’t be shit, OK?’

Climb out of the car gathering my goods and chattels and round to the main gate at HMP Stafford practicing the skills of projecting Cool & Calm & Completely In Control.

Act As If, right?

The gods clearly think so - presenting my ID at the gatehouse something momentous happens:

‘Ah – Mr Mouncey. You are expected!’

In all my prison visits this has never happened: Yeah, today’s gonna f**kin’ ROCK!

Before we can get to the effin’ rocking I need folks in the mosh pit. It’s coming up to 8am and I’ve asked for my 12 to assemble for a pre-breakfast Welcome Workout. The clue’s in the title - though I’m fairly sure most will think Welcome and Workout don’t necessarily go together. Still, I put my faith in Gavin and sure enough the men start to arrive singly or in small groups.

Basics first: Recall and check first names, eye contact, welcome, handshake, smile and thanks for coming x 12.

‘Turns out it’s only 11 in the end but that’s just life here.

And suddenly we’re all over the threshold and committed: I’ve got ‘em, they’re waiting and Gavin’s watching.

Let’s rock fellas…

Full Immersion

Half hour later and I’ve turned their concept of ‘warm up’ and ‘workout’ inside out and upside down. But we’re all smiling, the tension’s gone and Gavin is still letting me run with this thing. I’ve made our virtual classroom in a corner of the sports hall – low benches, crash mats, floor mats, big pads of paper, colored post-its, stuff taped to the wall – and over a communal breakfast in our new home for the next 3 days I do the formal welcome stuff and lay out what we have in store.

The attention-grabber as far as they are concerned is that on the morning of Day 3 they will all be taking part in a gym-based triathlon challenge row-bike-run format. Which means I have 2 days to get ‘em ready in body, mind and spirit. Along the way they’ll be learning some stuff very familiar to all those who do endurance sports the world over:

• How to persevere through multiple setbacks in a challenging changing environment and still stay on course

• How to manage your mood and take charge of your mind

• How (and why) to play by the rules when no-one is watching for a long period of time

Or as I’ve described it:

How to control how you feel in here (tap over heart) and think clearly up here (tap head) so that you can make the most of your time inside to stay outside on release.

We’re eating communally so I can keep ‘em together and do everything from one base as a group all day – genuine deep immersion stuff. Keeping ‘em engaged throughout will mean turning the traditional silo programing on it’s head – go to Breakfast, go to Education, go to Workshop, go to Lunch etc - so of course I’ve done that as well: We start with physical activity, then we do some learning, then we test and check where they’re at. Then we repeat the cycle.


And again.

And again.

And we don’t ‘go’ anywhere.

I still have them all with me at 6pm that evening at the end of our seventh or eighth cycle. But all that’s for later…

Testing & Checking

Bottom line is that this is an experiment and like all experiments there are some hypotheses we want to test and some evidence we need to gather. Three from our collection are:

1. Sustainable Rehabilitation: Putting fitness first produces quick, direct mental health benefits so that rehabilitation is faster, broader, more cost-effective and sustainable

2. Emotional Resilience can be taught and this…is how you teach and test it using physical activity for this population

3. Engagement: Learning is made easy and attractive when done out of a classroom and after physical exercise (preferably outside)

(Every parent of every small child knows the truth of the last one and yet prison still defaults to putting men and women who have typically struggled with mainstream education back in an environment they have so much baggage about: In a white room on a chair behind a desk being talked at).

By the time we get to lunch – which arrives at our base as if by magic on a trolley to much enthusiasm…(Easy to forget that simple upgrades/changes to routine for these men – especially any involving food – have a huge impact. Plates are piled and bar a few shreds of lettuce the food is GONE. For Gavin this is clearly old news but I find myself somewhat shocked: No-one asked Gavin or I and no-one thought to leave any for us. My Manners Monitor is about to explode but then…

Why would they? Staff and men don’t eat together here so odds-on it’s just not on their radar.

So while I do have my own supplies in my favorite Shaun The Sheep lunchbox I am momentarily nonplussed).


By the time we get to lunch…we’ve gone through the fizz-learn-check cycle at least four times and I’m definitely calmer inside. Gavin checks in:

‘Just trying not to be shit’ I reply. ‘Working quite hard at it..!’

I leave ‘em some gym homework to do under Gavin’s beady eye for the first part of the afternoon while I go fly the flag and press the flesh among other key staff members. I need to understand ‘normal’ and Big Picture here and I wont get that if my world remains my 11 blokes. This thing needs to solve problems for as many other folks here as possible and it needs to fit into what already works.

I have an informative break and then it’s back to the chaps. Tea is another locust-fest and I lead a final shorter session post-tea before the rush to make the most of the early evening allocated telephone time. Suddenly Day 1 is done: No-one has thrown their toys out, Gavin hasn’t had to rescue me and it’s all gone pretty much to plan.


Day 2 is much the same except for two things: We’re outside much more and come mid afternoon it’s very obvious that they are all at input-capacity and are starting to flag big-style. So we dial it all down and call it quits just before tea. Tomorrow we tri…

Putting It Out There & Wrapping It Up

We’ve made it easy for people to see and hear what’s going on by making sure the event is visible. Come mid morning there is quite a crowd and Gavin breaks out the banging tunes to add to the atmosphere as we rotate our 11 through 1000m of rowing, 5000m of cycling and 800m of running and much cheering. Everyone completes and some really do leave nothing behind – and almost inevitably this comes from the least expected quarters.

And I miss one thing: There are a lot of nerves made worse by a fair amount of waiting for those further down the competition order. I’m wrapped up in the Making Happen bit and it’s Gavin who clocks it. I catch him working 1:1 with a very withdrawn looking Kevin before the penny drops for me. I give a silent prayer of thanks to the gods of Gavin and make a note:

You’ll be plugging that gap next time then, won’t you Mr Mouncey?

The final wrap up is deeply moving in parts.

We’re all gathered in our base for the final time – after I feared they’d eat the furniture along with the post-race food - with one of the senior staff sitting in. For the final two questions I ask them to speak out loud in turn to the group while I remove myself out of view so I can transcribe and they can make eye contact with their peers.

Last up is John - one of the seemingly more assured:

‘We’re all in a sorry situation here…’ There’s a pause and I can see everyone turn inward and heads drop in unison. ‘So we all got so much more out of this. I now realize I can do more than I thought – this has given me the confidence to raise my standards and test myself.’

After that there’s a minor matter of awarding the certificates and this time the handshakes are firmer and the smiles come from within. All that remains is that rather important final check with Gavin.

Deep breath:


A pause and a grin.

‘No – you weren’t. Definitely not.

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, Dec 2 2014 04:55PM

Two weeks in an immobilizer boot were up last week and the first thing that was very bleedin’ obvious was that the symptoms were still there giving me the finger and probably having a good laugh at my expense. Not totally sure what I expected to feel on Release Day - but to say it was somewhat of a let down would be an understatement.

It was the final morning with www.runningthehighlands.com in Balmoral for whom I’d been filling the special guest slot and earning my food and board through workshops and presentations. It’s fair to say organizer Neil Stewart probably didn’t expect his ultrarunning guru to arrive strapped up in a ski boot and whose idea of a workout for the w/e was a lopsided limp around the castle grounds. Still, I fulfilled my inspirational obligations and had my eyes opened to another stunning part of the world at the end of a six hour drive I’d never been to before. I feel some Scottish adventures coming once I’m Two Feet Good again…

Anyway, suffice to say that The Great Unstrapping Ceremony was something of a damp squib that found me with one immediate thought:

So that worked, then…(sigh)

The following day I decided to do depression again until some dedicated childcare time in the evening snapped me out of that self-indulgent rubbish. One serious talking to later together with some ‘No way am I putting up with this crap again’ looks from Mrs Mouncey sealed it:

I’ll just go counter-intuitive.

If immobilization hadn’t worked then it was clearly time to do the opposite: make the b***ard thing work. Six months on from the first symptoms and I figured if anything was busted then it’s sure as hell not now – just not working properly. A trip to my physical therapist mentor Phil Ward www.philwardphys.co.uk just cemented my thinking:

It’s fundamentally OK, it’s just gone to sleep and needs waking up - but gradually…

So that last few days I’ve been on my own rehab schedule that includes physical manipulation of the foot and ankle, massage with foam roller, golf ball and tennis ball, single leg balances with/out wedge, swiss ball work and foot conditioning exercises. I’ve even had the motivation to figure out what lifting and bodyweight conditioning exercises it will handle from my usual outdoor circuit AND been out on the bike again – albeit trying not to cry at the pathetic gears I was forced to use. Probably the best news was that it survived a short family ramble round one of our local crags – something that we’d not been able to do together for an age.

So when my good friend Speedy Paul popped round on one of his periodic Red Cross visits it was almost a delight to report something along the lines of ‘ well it didn’t seem to work so I’m doing the opposite and it sure ain’t getting worse.’

Climbing out? Perhaps. But one foot off the bottom for sure.

By Andy Mouncey, Jun 1 2014 07:48PM

I want to declare my position on this from the outset: I am an accredited strength-conditioning coach, I do curiosity quite well and I also run ultras. This means I start from the position that my professional training and personal experience has given me: Strength is good.

For the last few years I’ve observed, read and experimented. What you don’t have in this piece are detailed conditioning plans you can just blindly follow – it ain’t that simple and you’re not that simple either.

What you do have is the result of all that experimentation as clear as I can make it, and a framework you can take to a conditioning specialist who can fill in the gaps for you.