Every Wednesday I go to HMP and Young Offender Institution Grampian, where I have two groups of around 20 dedicated runners committed to improving their health through the inspiration and benefit that running can provide. The running programme that we’ve followed these first few months follows the NHS Couch to 5K and allows everyone to be able to run for 30 minutes, or approximately 5K.
At the end of those sessions, we had a celebration event, where prisoner-runners ran together in a team for 30 minutes. The event emphasised being a “finisher”, as marathon running does, rather than winning the race, and promoted running as a collective experience of a team. At the end of the run there was a celebration with party and cake shared with runners, members of the Runforever running club, prison staff and of organizations helping with the project – Shmu Aberdeen Community Media Organisation, Families Outside, and International Futures Forum.
When I entered a prison for the first time in Milan in 2009, I went there to attend the theatre performance Maratona di New York by Edoardo Erba, which was held inside the theatre of the prison itself. The performance showed two men running in preparation for the New York marathon and talking to each other on existential topics like absence, void of meaning and trauma.
As I was walking out of the prison, I wondered in excitement: “What if I run marathons and take what I learn from the ‘wall’ of the marathon, to people spending their life within the walls of the prison?’ I then realised how the parallel between the two walls could open a healing path for prisoners.”
Since the beginning of 2013 I have been organising projects based on marathon running inside prisons.
Runforever is non-profit organisation and running club promoting educational community projects exploring paths for humanising prison care and more generally health care. We started a new pilot project in February 2023, supported by initial funding in collaboration with HMP & YOI Grampian and the charities mentioned above, to create a running club that will serve as a bridge between inside and outside the prison. This specific focus addresses the urgent issue of prisoners tending to reoffend when back in the outer world and entering into a vicious loop of social exclusion and separation.
Differently from my previous experiences where I worked only inside the prison, this new pilot project works simultaneously inside and outside. The running club in fact welcomes at the same time runners from inside and outside the prison, overcoming risks of stigmatization. It addresses exactly the transition of prisoners in the outer community and issues of health and wellbeing in the wider society.
We also create links between outside and inside through a radio show – Runnningstories, created in collaboration with Shmu and the media unit of the prison, giving voice to stories of runners about their running experience and the impact on their health and wellbeing. It also organizes races for giving the opportunity of bringing families together and health wellbeing events for promoting a sustainable, healthy prison. The project is a small action participating in wider systemic change.
The running sessions always start with some time spent in the “dressing room” – a classroom in the link centre of the prison – where we watch inspiring videos from runners together. These videos have become a common language for all of us and a useful background for our running practice.
Running enables the formation of a community of support between participants – prisoners, ex-prisoners, people with different health issues like mental health, addiction and alcoholism, members of prison and charity staff, educators, researchers. It helps build connections with their families. This contributes towards breaking the barriers and walls between them, as running clubs do: “And we will all be runners…”
I lead a running group based in a prisonBack