I love the ethos behind parkrun. What started as 13 friends getting together for a 5k run in Bushey Park 2004 has gone on to become an incredible worldwide phenonomon. There is no doubt that it has inspired tens of thousands of people worldwide to get out and move. In addition to that, parkrun has inspired people to volunteer to help out with the running and organisation of these weekly, free events.
Every week, Twitter and Facebook celebrates the accomplishments of parkrunners everywhere. Whether it’s a 15 minute course record, or someone completing the distance for the first time, everybody is celebrated and everybody is equal. The official parkrun Facebook page and the weekly newsletter often shares inspiring stories of individuals who have completed the distance.
Running is for everyone.
So why not a parkrun based in a prison? The first prison based parkrun recently started at HMP Haverigg in Cumbria. The parkrun discussion group was busy with conversation about this hot topic, with opinions ranging from it being a brilliant idea, to those who felt that it was a terrible idea and that prisoners should wait until they’d been released before being able to take part in parkrun.
Personally, I think it’s a great idea. The mental and physical health benefits of running are well documented, but not only that, it encourages healthy lifestyle choices and the volunteering aspect gives a sense of purpose and the skills developed and used can be transferred to the outside world. HMP Haverigg is a Cat C prison and parkrun could play a part in rehabilitation.
Some of you may wonder why I’m so interested in this. Earlier this year, one of my best friends was released from prison. We used to write to each other when she was inside and she started telling me about how she had developed a love affair with running. She is now working with various prisoner charities, working for prisoner rights and improved conditions to help with prisoner rehab. Naturally, I had to ask her opinion on the new parkrun. Her comments are copied below:
Brilliant! Like they said, because it’s a C cat prison, it’s easier for involvement but I think it should be done across all prisons with the facilities to. Running got me through my sentence. It helped my mental health loads. If I wasn’t working and the gym was open, I was on that treadmill. It helps you escape the prison goldfish bowl dramas and you can lose yourself in it. It definitely helped me prepare for leaving prison. Not only because I was in better shape, but I was so much happier within myself. If I had a bad thought in my head, usually I would dwell on it and drive myself deeper into a depression. If I did the same thing whilst running, it helped me look at the situation in a more positive light. That in itself has helped change my whole way of thinking, even on the outside. If I have a wobbly moment now I get out there and walk or run! Even if people can’t run, do what I did, start with walking. I did that on the treadmill, and then added the hill mode and one day I thought fuck it! And started running intervals.
Volunteering to do to the prison parkrun would be have loads of benefits, not only will it boost your physical health by participating, you will help keep yourself motivated and busy through out your sentence, instead of counting down how many canteens until your release date, count down how many parkruns. It’ll not only boost your moral, it will give you the chance to boost others’ moral as well.
Not only that, running the event will give the prisoners who volunteer new management skills. This might work well with people who are doing their NVQs for the gym. It’ll give you a chance to be more social and you can carry on this when you get outside. It’s a positive choice with loads of benefits and in prison you need something positive you can focus on.
I was incredibly surprised by some of the negative comments that Black Combe parkrun received on social media. I think my friend has summed up the benefits above, speaking about it from first hand experience. It is obvious to me how parkrun could help to play a part in rehabilition. I’d love to know what you all think.