Locked down and locked out
This is the twelfth in a new blog series chronicling the different ways in which organisations in the criminal justice sector are helping their service users survive the impact of coronavirus. It is written by Andy Mouncey, Founder of Run For Your Life CIC.
If your organisation – statutory, voluntary, or private – would like to share how you’ve had to adapt to be able to continue to provide your service, please get in touch.
Run for Your Life use coaching, training and mentoring to help prisoners and prison staff 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. So we switched to supporting prison governors.
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 Therapeutic Community.
We were in the throes of bridging from that first work 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 though 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.
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?
Reaching out to 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.’
I invited some governors with whom I had worked to participate and help us refine a process.
It’s means that our support has moved from the wings pre-lockdown to the boardroom. While our Covid-19 Frontline Lifeline package has versions for staff, families and those in-cell, demand to date has all been for the Governor version. This is what it looks like:
How We Do It
Three prison governors together take part in a structured group coaching call on Zoom that is co-facilitated by Chris and I under a 3-point agenda:
- Unload frustrations
- Share good practice
- Look ahead to Next & Big Picture
Calls are 1.5-2 hours long and homework is given. The process has been designed to be deliberately different and specifically to help governors lead a transition through and beyond the challenge of Covid-19.
The initial advocate group of three 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.
We believe that the sector Recovery will be harder and take way longer than Emergency Response. The unique opportunity now is that the culture, systems and operational processes improve as a consequence of the CV19 experience rather than simply revert back to pre-pandemic norms.
And this work is only just beginning.
Find out more [email protected]
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.