CEO's Blog - Feltham Young Offenders Institute
Today was one of those days which will stay with me for a long time. I was invited by John McAvoy to join himself and Mark Hunter to see the work going on inside HM Prison Feltham with Fulham FC, the ROTL team (Release on Temporary Licence) and the young people there using sport as a tool for rehabilitation.
As I’m sure most of you know, John is a reformed character through sport having spent ten years in prison himself and is now Nike’s only Ironman sponsored athlete. Mark is an Olympic Champion from Beijing in the Lwt Men’s Double and Silver Medallist from London 2012 as well as being a two-time World Champion. Prison was a new experience for Mark and I to say the least!
We were incredibly lucky to be shown around by Keith and Michelle who have both worked for 17 years in the Prison service. You will struggle to meet two more passionate or professional individuals in any walk of life. It was incredibly moving to see two people so committed to rehabilitating young people and helping them get their lives back on track.
We were shown some of the wings which house these young men as well as the activities and qualifications available to them. Subject to good behaviour they have the opportunity to learn trade skills, gain real-world qualifications and take part in some truly innovative schemes. Keith went into great detail about the Airborne Initiative (https://airborneinitiative.org) which is a 5 day residential course on Dartmoor designed to challenge young people to help them achieve their potential.
We were also shown the gym and outside space available for use. As we were there a football match was taking place between ten young people and being expertly run by Jim from the Fulham FC Foundation. It was incredible to see the level of skill, fitness and determination on display but what was most impressive was the reaction to the tackles going in. One of the young men was on the wrong end of dodgy lunge from his opposite number to say the least. You could instantly see the raft of emotions run over his face in the space of a couple of seconds; anger at being fouled, aggression towards the man that fouled him, a deep breath, composure and back to playing the game. How else would he learn these coping skills if not for being involved in sport? The eight week football course run by Fulham FC is a privilege to be earned and one that is taken away should any bad behaviour make it necessary. The young men will spend the morning in the classroom running through the theory of training, fitness and tactics before putting it all into practice on the pitch in the afternoon. They go back to their cells more fulfilled, the endorphins are flowing and the re-offending rate for these young men is dramatically lower than for the average prison population of the same age.
There was one moment that was truly life changing, being invited in to see one of the cells by one of the inmates. Words can not describe how small that space is to call home for years at a time. It wasn’t a nice place to be and I never want to let any of the children we work with to end up in that situation.
What has struck me more than anything is the amount of potential, hope and opportunity that surrounds HMP Feltham which, to be 100% honest, is not something I thought I would be saying. The young men we met were just that, young men. They’re children, inexperienced and for the most-part, not bad people. What has happened to them is as a result of a bad environment, some unlucky rolls of the dice and a lack of good guidance (most notably nearly all of the young men did not have a significant father-figure in their lives). They’ve clearly made their own choices and they are rightly being held accountable for them but I do not believe it is as simple as saying that are bad people and that’s that. I believe that the line between what most of us call ‘normal life’ and what those boys experience every day is thinner than you could ever imagine. We are all just a few wrong decisions away from life turning out very differently and those of us not in that situation should be grateful every day for the opportunities and guidance we’ve been given through our lives. The upside to that, of course, is that every young person in HMP Feltham has the ability to turn things around and live the life they want, just ask John McAvoy!
I was also blown away but the amount of un-tapped natural athletic talent there was on display. One of the young men we saw was over 6ft 4 tall and with a frame that most rowers could only dream of. I can’t get out of my head what he could be going onto achieve had he sat in a boat as a young man, it’s makes me feel sick to think he’s actually at the start of 15 years in prison.
Rowing certainly isn’t the silver bullet to the ills of society (I wish it was that simple!) but I do believe that sport has a massive part to play both in the rehabilitation and early intervention of young people involved in criminality. I’m also incredibly grateful that people like Michelle and Keith are working every day to turn things around for these boys at the start of their adult lives.
Today has redoubled my efforts to ensure that we are delivering safe, enjoyable sessions to every student along the Boat Race course and giving them the pathway for success needed should they decide to walk that road.
#powerofsport #sportchangeslives #rowingforeveryone