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By Andy Mouncey, Apr 27 2021 04:19PM

I had a little cry the night I finished the work at HMP Brinsford.

Which was a bit of a shock.

Mrs Mouncey and I went for a walkie-talkie when I got home that evening and, well…

Waterworks.

She took it rather well, I thought.




Here’s the thing: In the 8 years I’ve been in this kinda work nothing else has provoked a reaction like this – which begs the question why this and why now?


Not an insignificant number of easy biking and running hours later – this also doubles as my Making Sense of Stuff time - I arrived at some conclusions. Then I tested those conclusions with someone who knows me enough, has been in this line of work for way longer than me and who, I believe, really knows his onions.


Most of my group of young men were in their early 20’s but there were also a good number who were 19. My eldest son is 14 – which is only 5 short years away.

And as a parent that’s way too close for comfort.


Now I have done work with this age group previously but that has been with ‘at risk of offending’ groups in the community: This is a first for me to work with this group in a custodial setting.

And here’s the thing about a custodial setting in the Spring of 2021: While covid restrictions ease in society in general prisons lag behind. For the last year there has been no education, no work-based training, no organised physical activity – and no family visits.


There are reasons for this and I’ve written about those reasons previously - and the fact remains: My group have been mainly in their cells with very little to do and very few people to do it with – and a few were still experiencing the most basic version of that regime.

And to my eyes they’re still just kids – just with a very particular model of the world.


Not exactly master criminals either: Most are – to my mind anyway – doing time because they couldn’t control their emotions. They are in prison because of a crime of the heart in a moment in time – or two moments in the case of a second offence.


I’d argue that’s not a crime of the head – it’s not thought-through and it’s not organised.

You want to know what organised crime looks like? Try this:

Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France.


This was a deception that was meticulously planned and executed over multiple years that spanned continents, cost millions, emmeshed thousands and left broken people and livelihoods in its wake - oh, and all covered by the elaborate smokescreen that was his charity work.

Where is he now?

Still got his house and family and some people are still giving him employment.

What’s he lost? Seven yellow T-shirts, a few sponsors and not that much of his fortune.

(He also settled a few things out of court, a few folks quite reasonably took their awards back and he got stuck with a life ban - but seems to have fared considerably better than your average 19year old at HMP Brinsford).

Though I do very occasionally wonder what his kids think of it all.


So yeah: That’s organised crime.

And a justice gap the size of the Grand Canyon.


That’s just a particularly high-profile example from the world of sport. Other examples from business and politics are also available. If you really want to depress yourself you can come up with your own list – though I figure you’ll throw in the towel in disgust long before you run out of examples.


And that, right there is what I think got me: I experienced what I experienced with my group AND I’m aware of this other sh**.


They’re just kids.

Not a million miles away from mine.

It’s not fair – and it’s not right.





By Andy Mouncey, Apr 1 2021 11:54AM

This work at HMP/YOI Brinsford is funded by HM Prison & Probation Service through Clinks Covid19 Winter Support Grant Programme.



We’ve just set a bomb off.

Or opened a sack of boiling feral tomcats and released them into a confined space.

Take your pick.


That this is part of the plan is no comfort to me at all – it’s just that no plan survives first contact with reality and in this case reality has smacked me in the kisser as well.


One week later and it’s Day 3 & 4 at HMP Brinsford and the plan said we grow the first group of 4 and add another 6-8. So we took nominations and made final selections and brought a new 8 to meet our original 4…our original 4 all of whom if not exactly on the same page as me with this work are at least looking at the same book – whereas it looks and sounds like our new 8 would take those pages make a tube out of ‘em and use that to smoke the contents of a teabag.

(Sigh).


It actually started well because we started at pace with some fizz outside (physical activity) that had them moving and doing and grunting and gasping and grinning. But as soon as I loosened the leash and we moved onto some of the essential head stuff the cohesion and compliance slipped.


I’d positioned our original 4 as informal mentors to the new lads – we’ll be looking to you to look after ‘em - but they weren’t stepping up and I watched in growing despair as peer pressure/expectations worked its insidious sabotage into our carefully constructed group dynamics from last week.

Bollocks.


Somehow we vaguely kept it on track-ish through the morning but it was guerrilla warfare the whole way. My staff support G had a face like thunder and was clearly plotting ritualistic slaughter as retribution. You could say he had cause: Many of these lads had asked – politely and repeatedly he’d told me – to join us. And he’d done the grunt work for them so it could happen.

So he was pissed.


I’d lost it twice through the morning and said things I just shouldn’t have said.

That I knew it right away, did an internal cringe and did my best to salvage was of no comfort: I’d f**ked up and that was bad.

So much for being cool under fire then.

This Is Not The Way.


Lunchtime was an Emergency Summit: We had a frank exchange and changed some stuff. And thank goodness it worked: By the end of the day we finished with the same number of lads that we’d started with – and retaining is a big win with this stuff – and we were all in a better place than we were a few hours earlier.

And we knew that ‘cos we’d checked and asked.


‘Must’ve been quite a day though because even after a chance to decompress during my two and a quarter hour drive home, Mrs Mouncey later informed me that Husband returned wearing a nice shade of Haunted and Hunted.

Which she normally sees at the end of a particularly traumatic 100 mile race.


Other Eyecatchers

Pants & Pockets

Hands are typically carried one of two places: Down the front of pants or in the pockets. This applies even when trying The Floor Is Lava for the first time (see below). If pockets it’s probably not to play with personal parts but to facilitate…


Vaping

F**kin’ vaping.

All but two of my 12 vape and most of them seem compelled to partake almost unconsciously on average every 77 seconds. They’ve all mastered the Reach & Draw action to the point that it’s almost unseen by the casual observer. Unfortunately (for them) that doesn’t apply to the smoke. Now we did have this with our first 4 but to nowhere near this level – it’s like there’s some sort of herd mechanism accelerant at work.


I’ve chosen to give them the chance to manage it by having periodic breaks – I got them down to 4mins from a starting ask of 15 (go me) - making a written agreement with me (they sign) and then burpees in front of the group when they break it.

Except they’ve all given the finger to that and just giggle and take the burpees and the point-scoring among their peers that comes with it.

It’s an absolute bastard nightmare and a source of total and utter sabotage to the work.


One of the staff remarked to me: ‘If this was a few years ago they’d be on cigarettes and that would be way worse.’ Except I don’t buy that because there’s more faff factor with a fag and a lighter and part of the problem with vaping is it’s too damn easy to do: One item and one action.

Almost as if it were designed that way…


I’m not generally given to violent urges but this makes me want to scream and smash things. I figure there’s got to be some rules about this somewhere but I’m f**ked if I can figure out what they are.


Time

Most are preoccupied with Time:

What time is it?

What time will it finish?

What time is lunch?

Repeatedly.


Now logically I know that at least part of the reason for this is that their lives are normally driven by structure and requirements to be escorted to a certain place for a certain time. And Certainty is a currency in here: The familiarity of something happening at a certain time is something to grab on to.

But I’m like:

Really?

You have other places to be at the moment?

Other more pressing engagements?

A packed social calendar?

???????!!!


My self-indulgent verging on incredulous monologue rarely gets more than an embarrassed shrug. My Level Two repost then kicks in:

‘It’s time to be here with me and everyone else enjoying this thing right here right now: That’s what time it is.’

‘Fairly sure that’s not the response they’re looking for either.


The Floor Is Lava

Is a raging hit with a 5 star review.

Who knew?

We set up an inside course, an outside course, did team and solo challenges and everyone threw themselves into it and even had hands out of pockets by their second lap.

I thanked all gods great and small that I’d perfected my TFIL methodologies with our boys as part of lockdown PE – so I wasn’t short of ideas.

Nobody broke anything either – utterly remarkable: ‘You ever seen a pocket rhinoceros do TFIL?


Everyone Gives A Shit

There were moments that afternoon when we were given a glimpse of the real inside.

Guerrilla warfare went on pause and the real stuff came out.

I’d wanted to test some of the headlines about life inside during lockdown and to check our Big 4 issues from last week and so had been building up to questions along the lines of:

What do you do all day if you’re in cell for 22-23 hours?*

(Watch TV, use the phone, write letters**)

How do you cope?

(Get my head down, get on with it – it’s not that bad***)


Which brought us round to those people who choose to cope by fronting it out – the ‘I Don’t Give A Sh**’ brigade – not just during lockdown but in prison in general.


And suddenly right there all my 12 were on the same page – their replies showing maturity beyond their years and the hurt of experience:

That’s bollocks: Everyone hurts – everyone gives a sh**’


It took me a few days reflection to realise that I’d been wrestling with my own inner conflict that day too – and the nature of my day was therefore at least in part due to bits of my inside popping up on my outside.


Without knowing any more detail than I know already through my work, I know that being in prison during a pandemic is – for want of a better phrase - a pretty shitty experience.

And it’s still going on for my 12 and it ain’t over either.

So I just wanted to be kind.

To cut ‘em some slack.

Because everybody hurts.




*A handful of my group were

**This is less common that you might think as many struggle to read and write fluently

***Which begs the question ‘Compared to what?’





Timeline RFYL CIC

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

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

2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid)

2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.

2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown

2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut

2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP Brinsford


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 37

Funding Bids Successful: 1

Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4

Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2

Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1



By Andy Mouncey, Mar 25 2021 11:08AM

This work at HMP/YOI Brinsford is funded by HM Prison & Probation Service through Clinks Covid19 Winter Support Grant Programme.


The chickens stole the show.

Who knew?

My 4 twenty-something lads spent endless minutes seemingly captivated by the clucking pecking ground-based beasties that were roaming around in their enclosure 100 yards from our base of operations.

And then there was the pond – full of exotic fish if you believed the exclamations.

Again, endless minutes spent crouched at the edge…


I’d clocked the garden during my warm up visit and added it my list of ‘Must Do.’

Dr Michelle Baybutt has spent countless hours building the case for gardens and growing to be an essential part of rehabilitation in prison under the delightfully titled banner GOOP (Greener On the Outside for Prisons) https://www.uclan.ac.uk/research/activity/greener-on-the-outside-for-prisons

I just know that being outside in the green stuff is good and I take it for granted – except that’s my privilege. If all I do is bring my lads outside I know I’ll be ahead on the scoreboard: GOOP: Get Outside Or Perish.


This was the morning of Day 2 (of 2) and the green and pleasant land had wrapped my little group in Nature’s equivalent of a comfort blanket.

Calm had descended after a somewhat fraught start.


We’d started the day spending frikkin’ ages persuading our pocket rhinoceros Luke to stop throwing smokescreens and make good on his commitment to see the two days through. He’d worked on a wonderfully creative set of reasons/excuses to hide the underlying theme: ‘Just Can’t Be Arsed.’


We were actually treading a fine line here. I had our other 3 lads with me – yes, for those of you that read the previous piece that does mean I have a group of 4 not six, and a slightly different 4, and a member of staff but a different member of staff. All fairly normal so far – and the longer we spent with Luke the more pissed off they were becoming.

Because bless him, he was not exactly class favourite after yesterday’s attention-seeking performance (sigh).


Except I knew it was all bullshit and my staff wingman G had been clear that one of the measures of a good day today was that Luke see it through.

And the value of turning him and keeping him would be huge – for him.

So he was coming – whether he knew it or not.


Eventually we had a full roll again and I made straight for the garden where we lingered – and allowed uncharitable thoughts to drain away through the soil.

We lingered and I watched what could have been toddlers exploring a farm.

For the first time?

So I checked: ‘Have any of you been here before?’

No.

That would explain it then.

Start again.


The crown jewels moment had come right at the end of Day 1. I kinda knew I’d be up against the Clueless Shouty Dickhead test and they’d clearly decided that I wasn’t because at 7 hours in they were where we wanted them: speaking freely from the heart.


Consistent with my operating model of ‘Just do it – learn, then do it again’ these first two days were all about giving them some of my stuff to test drive and giving them reasons to open up about what they needed so I could be clear about how I could help them help themselves and each other.


One week later we’d have another pair of days where I’d be older and wiser, we’d adjust the content from Day 1 & 2 and be confident enough to add more men to the group.

And the same again for Day 5 & 6 Week 3.


I figured I could anticipate well enough what they wanted – interaction, blow the cobwebs out, just get out and have something different for chrissakes…

And probably cake: Lots of cake.


But what did they actually need? That was a different question the answers to which would come after we’d ticked the Want boxes well enough.

Give ‘em what they want first so the need becomes apparent.


‘Thing was, I’d no idea how long that would all take and what exactly would need to happen to get there. That was more a stretch for the prison used as they were to operating a controlled environment with no surprises. And here’s me coming in pitching a modus operandi along the lines of I just need to do some stuff to figure out exactly what I need to do for you – but I’m not exactly sure what that stuff is – yet.

You Ok with that?

Blless ‘em, they were.


So in front of the lads I’m doing my best projected ‘ Yes I’m here because I give a sh** about you’ (through a mask) keeping them going and getting heading outside more often than not: Being genuine and trusting my process and content.


And towards the end of the day we got their The Big Four:

1. Physical activity outside – team challenge format please

2. Care of self and cell

3. Time and space to talk about the sh** we want (and need) to talk about

4. Advocacy: To be able to reach others with this


It’s been tougher than I thought and on reflection I home in on two reasons.

One is the obvious practical one that has affected much of the delivery while the second has taken me by surprise:

1.Doing this with mask and Covid restrictions

2.The lads have actually got comfortable with lethargy – and breaking out of that is hard


But break out we did and the morning of Day 2 was Physically Active Learning turned up to Number 11 https://www.naht.org.uk/news-and-opinion/news/pupil-support-and-safeguarding-news/physically-active-learning-key-research-and-resources/ I was a happy boy ‘cos I’d got my crown jewels and we were all a bit more relaxed together: everything else was cream on the top. There was just one last request before we finished:

‘Can we see the chickens again?’




Timeline RFYL CIC

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

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

2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid)

2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.

2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown

2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut

2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP Brinsford


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 37

Funding Bids Successful: 1

Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4

Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2

Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1

By Andy Mouncey, Mar 12 2021 02:51PM

This work at HMP/YOI Brinsford is funded by HM Prison & Probation Service through Clinks Covid19 Winter Support Grant Programme.


‘So…’ projecting big smiley face from distance with big wide arms for added fill-the-space--ness - ‘everyone be up-standing ‘cos we’re gonna go in 3-2-1 GO!’

Nothing happens.

Nobody moves.

The 10 young men around me may as well be made of stone and they’re all telegraphing the same silent message:

Your move, smartarse.

F**k.


This is not as advertised:

‘We’ve got you in front of the prison council,’ said the staff. ‘There’s some good lads there – we’ve talked to them about this and they’re up for it.’


So I’m a happy boy: I’m here to do some focus group stuff – to involve the lads in the program design bit – and to get ‘em engaged in a teeny tiny bit of physical activity (fizz) so I can see what I’m gonna be working with.


I’ve thought carefully about my opening remarks, scripted them and rehearsed them as I always do – that vital first 30second ‘Land ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em window’

And this should be top of the intellectual food chain: 2 representatives from each of the 5 blocks or Residences, as they’re called.

Break the ice – warm ‘em up.


Only half an hour ago I’d walked my staff hosts here at HMP/YOI Brinsford near Birmingham through everything I was about to do – and not a hint of a red flag was waved.

And that included taking them through this same fizz challenge in their office space in full uniform that I’ve just set up now.


Meanwhile back in the real world I know full well what’s next – and sure enough…

Here come the rocks.

Objections-excuses are lobbed into the middle while nerves are hidden in ridicule.

I can spot the gym-bunnies a mile off and sure enough we have one here – and Biceps bless him, could look more affronted if he tried.

Gonna have to do this the hard way then (sigh).


It takes many minutes of round the houses from me and the staff and in the end I resort to getting 3 staff to complete the 3 x 17 second challenge as a way of throwing down a gauntlet and reassuring the lads that I’m not about to turn them into an onion or get them to do something they really can’t.


And trust me I know how to pitch this stuff by now: The challenge I’ve set them is to stand up, lie down face up on the floor then stand up again. They can use both hands to do this, or one hand or do it no-hands with hands on head. How many times in 17 secs? Match it then beat it.

(Hey – you can join in a home too!)

FINALLY the cracks start to appear: we get one up for it – as long as everyone else does, of course – then another, before I declare an away win and get it done with 3.


I don’t have to be a mind reader to see that the staff are pissed and embarrassed (for me) in equal measure. But I have one of my three boxes ticked and sure enough ticking the second – getting some of them to contribute to programme content – proves a little easier.

Everything’s relative of course, and there’s still only 4 out of 10 playing.

Now for number 3 and I go for the blunt approach:

‘Stand up if you want to work with me next week.’


And that’s how I end up with a 5-strong first cohort and to my relief they’re not all white. Gang culture is real here on the inside because it is real on the outside and some of those divides are indeed skin color.


As the lads start to disperse with their escorts the one closest to me - and one of my 5 - catches my eye and leans in. And that’s how right at the end I’m given a glimpse of the vulnerability behind the façade that peer pressure has created:

‘Thanks for coming in and trying to do something – we all really need it.’


Locked Up In A Pandemic: What’s It Really Like?

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has published a report that includes voice transcripts from people who have spent 22hrs/day in a cell for the last year. Please look & listen

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/inspections/what-happens-to-prisoners-in-a-pandemic/



By Andy Mouncey, Mar 2 2021 01:49PM

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – just go with me here please - came into force in the early 70’s. Essentially it boiled down to the nuclear powers at the time saying to the rest of the world: ‘We’ve got them, you can’t have them and you gotta promise never to try get them.’

Or scoring the winning goal in the first half and then declaring the game over taking the ball home with you.

‘Kinda feels like that here at the moment albeit with somewhat lower stakes.


We’d been about to go public with news of our partnership with one of the big four London-based auditors who will be supporting our work with prison governors. This has been a long time in the making and has the potential to transform our work: This firm will bring their people (as professional mentors) and funding to the partnership.

So it’s big stuff.

Unique for the sector.

Probably gonna shake some trees too.


Then some people who we respect and who know about these things said:

‘Er, do HM Prison & Probation Service know about this?’

Well, I have been trying to give them a chance to support the work – I was asked for a formal proposal back in October, remember?

(The reply to that arrived early Feb but that’s another rant).


‘Really think it would be a good idea to get their blessing before they read about it in the press’

Well, I have been trying…

‘No Andy, you’re listening but you ain’t hearing: Pause the work, get the blessing from the right people THEN you can do the fanfare bit. There’s too much at stake here.’

Silence.

Bollocks.


Then around the same time some more people who know about this stuff and who we respect said:

‘And after doing this work for nearly a year now it would be a very good idea to be formally contracted.’

Well, I have been trying…

You get the idea.


Eventually I wound up in touch with The Keeper Of The Big List (of approved suppliers to HMPPS) who also happens to be one of those very big firms that provide professional development services to very big firms.

‘I’m told we need to be on this List,’ I said.

‘The List is closed’ came the reply.


Well that sucks.

Apparently we need the blessing and we don’t get the blessing till we’re official and we can’t get official ‘cos someone’s called time on the game.

Meanwhile the need for the work is escalating and still no-one else is doing what we’re doing in the way that we’re doing it for the people we’re doing it for.

And having the impact.




Time to pull some levers then and share the problem with folks we have touched.

Please solve it for us, we said.

And off they went.


Then we did the same with our intended future partner who we knew was wise in these matters.

Please solve it for us, we said.

And off they went too.


In the meantime we had a decision to make about the work:

Do we just stop? Continue? What about fees? What about our governors?

What about the commitments we’d already made to them?


We are acutely aware that through this work we have a unique insight into what is happening inside our jails: To the leadership, staff and serving prisoners.

This is arguably a once-in-a-generational challenge – the scale and human cost of which is still emerging. Studies are now starting to quantify that cost for those behind bars https://www.russellwebster.com/impact-of-lockdown-on-prisoner-mental-health-devastating but here’s the thing: We’ve not seen an equivalent carried out for prison staff and their leadership teams.

But we know.


We know because we’re speaking to prison governors damn near every week and have been for the last 10months.

We know because we’ve learned that actually the most powerful thing we can do - once we had their trust - is just to shut up and let them speak from the heart to us and their peers.

Because they don’t do this anywhere else, they really need to do it now and they’re gonna need it in the future.

We know because they tell us.


It didn’t take much thinking about: We make good on those commitments and continue the work on our time to Easter. We’d figure out the rest along the way. Everyone we respect on this tells us that they think There Is A Way – and when I pause between bouts of teeth-grinding so do I.


Then this week I’m introduced to someone at HMPPS who seems to get how we are stuck and gives a damn enough to help us get un-stuck.

In part because he can see how we can make his life easier.

Please solve this for us, I said.

There Could Be A Way, he said.

And off he went.




Timeline RFYL CIC

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

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

2019 March: Second ‘Proof Of Concept’ pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid)

2019 June: First business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes

2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.

2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown

2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut

2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP Brinsford


The Numbers

Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 37

Funding Bids Successful: 1

Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4

Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2

Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1



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