|18 Jan 2018
Rebecca Norris (DH 2004) recently took a break from the world of commercial law in order to co-found 3 Pillars Project. They operate within the criminal justice system to tackle the issues of violence in prisons, rehabilitation and reintegration. They target young males, using a combination of military-style leadership and rugby coaching to promote positive role-modelling, teamwork and leadership skills.
“I need to learn to be more patient”. It may seem like a small statement but, for one man, it was the start of a new way of thinking. Will*, a 24 year-old inmate serving his third custodial sentence in HMP Wandsworth, was sat on the prison sports pitch when he admitted this to himself and 12 other inmates during the 3 Pillars Project pilot programme earlier this year. For me, this was also a break-through moment as I realised that the concepts upon which 3 Pillars Project is based work in practice, as well as in theory.
I trained as criminal barrister after studying law at the University of Cambridge and I spent much of my time as a student working with prison-based projects, including in Jamaica and South Africa, as well as eventually practising prison law.
Life took me from the Criminal Bar to the City and more commercially-focussed work but, four years on, I took a sabbatical to re-assess my priorities. Cue 3 Pillars Project.
The brain-child of Michael Crofts, a former army officer with two tours of Afghanistan under his belt, 3 Pillars Project uses rugby coaching, positive role-modelling and military leadership to deliver mentoring programmes in male prisons. The six-week courses are designed as positive interventions, targeting those inmates who are traditionally difficult to engage (usually under 25s who pose a high risk of violence and/or gang-related behaviour). We use former military leaders to deliver top-level fitness and rugby coaching, tackling impulsivity and teaching controlled aggression and leadership skills through the medium of rugby. Participants also engage in group discussions, focussing on life goals and values, as well as having the opportunity to talk with an off-pitch mentor at any time during each session.
The programme culminates in a rugby match against a local rugby club who visit the prison for the afternoon. This helps to bridge gaps between ex-offenders and the local community and provides a platform from which we are able to place former course participants in local rugby clubs upon their release from custody. We believe that collaboration, both with the community and other organisations working within the criminal justice system, is key to offering long-term support to all our participants.
As Co-Founder, I had the privilege of seeing the project come to fruition through an overwhelmingly successful pilot programme at HMP Wandsworth. Having gone from strength to strength, we are currently gearing up to run a programme in HMP Wormwood Scrubs specifically tailored towards violence reduction and gang intervention. We are working in partnership with Invictus Games athletes, who deliver motivational sessions on overcoming adversity, as well as with researchers from the University of Cambridge who are assisting us in measuring the impact of our programme.
Naturally, we may not ever know the real impact of our work in many cases but we are committed to empowering individuals' potential to make a positive contribution to society in the future, regardless of their past. One participant told us “the best thing about the course was making me feel wanted being around other men”. Even if that was all we achieved, it was well worth it.
Please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more. We very much welcome all support and interest.
*Not his real name
Rebecca Norris (DH 2004)