We are 3 Weeks into our inaugural HMP Wandsworth Rugby Academy. On reflection, it’s surreal to remind myself that this journey started one year ago, but that our first course is almost complete, as quickly as it started. Inspired by a rugby course engaging young offenders last summer, I endeavoured to create a course that utilised my passion for rugby, leadership and teamwork skills gleaned in the British Army as well as the development of ‘Through the Gate’ support for course graduates when they are released.
Through running this course, I am more certain and convinced than ever that this is a highly effective way to engage the mixture of men participating in our 3 Pillars Project course. From those that are experienced rugby players to the basketballer who has never picked up a rugby ball and has a natural flair for the sport; it is inspiring to witness the development of the men on the course.
Our course is not solely focused on rugby delivery. Whilst it is outstanding to see these men start to play, generating and developing a team bond, the conversations in the margins are the most rewarding gifts. With rugby as a medium or ‘the hook’ to engage the men we are working with, we are able to build up rapport and discuss extremely heavy subjects very quickly; such as family, the pressures of imminent release or remorse over crime.
There is one recurring theme that fervently reappears in conversations, that is the absence of family that men in prison feel, feelings of letting them down, remorse over absence and the effect that time in prison has on their loved ones. The theme of family seems particularly apt in conjunction with the emerging broader recognition that maintaining links and supporting family bonds is one of the most effective ways of reducing recidivism.
Families in mind, we are looking ahead optimistically to future courses. The opportunity for participants to showcase to their family what they learn on the course will be a huge part of what we build up to moving forward. Any opportunity for men in prison to bond with family and escape the mental monotony of prison life should be viewed as a positive. Not just to increase positivity within prison, but even more significantly to strengthen and nurture family ties and mutual pride between men, their partners and children.
If the central aim of rehabilitation is to reduce crime, we are quickly learning that anything that strengthens family ties is going to have a disproportionately positive effect on a prisoners future and their motivation to turn away from crime.