As the ‘Beast from the East’ arrived in the UK this month and most people were indoors trying to escape the Baltic winds, there was a rather different picture unfolding at HMP Wormwood Scrubs.
In one of the country’s oldest prisons, situated in the heart of West London, 15 inmates defied the snowstorm and headed to the prison yard to play rugby.
While an unusual sight for a visitor, it is a completely normal occurrence at Wormwood Scrubs, where the charity 3 Pillars Project is using rugby to help motivate, teach and inspire inmates.
“The thing I’ve found in prisons like these is that there are a lot of young men who don’t have any positive role male models in their lives. I wanted to find a way to help introduce some positive values,” says founder of 3 Pillars, Mike Crofts.
Mike can speak from experience when it comes to leadership and mentoring. During his eight years as a British Army Officer he served on two tours of Afghanistan and is now using everything he learned to help within the criminal justice system.
Over the last two years 3 Pillars has worked inside a range of institutions to introduce rugby over an eight-week course, which culminates in a club side coming into the prison to play a match against the inmates.
They may only be three weeks into their current programme at Wormwood, but the project’s impact is astonishing.
“This is my fourth time taking part,” explains Adam, one of the participants.
“I’d never played rugby before, it wasn’t something that was on my radar growing up. But sometimes prison can be like groundhog day and the chance to try something different was why I signed up the first time.”
He keeps coming back and has since become a course assistant, helping to deliver the programme as each new cohort of inmates is welcomed.
Part of the success of 3 Pillars has been its choice of coaches to deliver the programme, ensuring they pick a spread of characters who can all engage with the participants.
“I talk about finding rugby like I found a new family,” says Kazeem. “I played for the first time while I was inside and suddenly I found a positive way to channel and control my aggression.
“I left prison on a Friday and on the Monday I joined Hackney Rugby Club. They were like a family to me and that sense of community was amazing, I’d never had that before.
“There was no judgement as to what you’d done in your past, in rugby everyone is accepted for who they are.”
Every time 3 Pillars starts a new programme they try to evolve by focusing on a different area, from gang intervention to violence reduction. The current project is looking at resettlement with many of the participants set to be released in the next year.
They include Conor, who says the programme has given much more than just an understanding of the sport.
Every participant also completes a Sport Leadership Qualification to develop their skills off the pitch and for Conor the next stage of that process means delivering his own session to the group next week.
“I grew up with Wormwood Scrubs in the background. It was always there, me and my mates used to go past it all the time but you never think you’ll end up here.”
“I mean, I’d have never been able to do that [deliver a session] when I got here. The thing it has given me is confidence, the coaches are passionate and that helps bring us all together.”
Before leaving to go out into the blizzard and play rugby, there is a moment that encapsulates the ethos of the entire programme.
Kazeem gathers the group in a huddle before explaining that he has a special announcement. Jay, a former gang member whose young life has been defined by violence, is handed a T-shirt to mark his promotion from participant to assistant coach.
While Jay hurriedly puts on his new shirt with pride, his teammates clap and congratulate him.
“We’re not saying rugby will change their lives,” says Croft. “We’re saying rugby can be used as a tool to help these guys.
They will all leave this prison and we want them to do so as better people, leading positive lives and with strong role models and values.”
Try for Change is an England Rugby programme using the power of rugby union to improve the lives of marginalised and disadvantaged people in England and across the world. Our ambition is to raise money to grant to projects and programmes using rugby and its core values for positive change. England Rugby is proud to partner with Sport Relief to deliver Try for Change.
Source: England Rugby