How ping pong helps prisoners turn the tables on violence and recidivism | Society


Match level. A muscular, tattooed man takes a deep breath earlier than elevating a hand to serve. His opponent purses his lips in focus. The gang is hushed. A ball is fired throughout the room, clips the sting of the table, and it’s recreation over. The gang erupts in cheers and burly males launch themselves on to the winner.

Blokes enjoying ping pong may appear prosaic sufficient. Solely on this event they’re in jail. A jail guard watches over the corridor, because the banter kicks in and different matches resume, older arms teaching newer members of the group.

“Everybody who’s right here now just isn’t entering into any bother, and that’s as a result of there’s an incentive,” says Axel James, 30, a prisoner at HMP Excessive Down in Surrey for the previous three years. “You get a great rapport with the officers. After they know that you’re effectively behaved, you get extra fitness center periods and it will probably result in different sports activities as effectively.” He attends the table tennis periods every week.

To qualify for the weekly periods, inmates should have a great report – no violence, medication or abuse are tolerated. Visitors-light stamps that denote behaviour are meticulously recorded in a log e-book. Too many pink entries and prisoners keep locked of their cells. The incentive appears to be working: violent behaviour has fallen by 83% amongst attendees – and demand is rising. To date 250 prisoners have handed via the programme because it began two years in the past, with many on a ready record desperate to play.

The initiative can also be geared toward tackling one in every of Britain’s most cussed justice issues: the revolving door that places offenders out on the streets after which sucks them again in once more. In accordance with Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures, 29% of adults and 42% of young people reoffend inside one yr of launch. However a select committee report this summer claimed recidivism could be dramatically diminished with sports-based programmes each in and after jail.

James seems ahead to the periods all week as a result of he believes the motion and focus required by the sport enable him to mentally break away from the tedium of jail life. “There’s a variety of eye contact, you must stay targeted as a result of it’s a fast recreation,” he says. “So I’d say it’s an escape for prisoners.”

Coaches and volunteers from Brighton Table Tennis Club have been going to Excessive Down each week to coach the inmates as table tennis coaches. To date they’ve awarded 24 stage 1 teaching qualifications. The group have gotten to know one another effectively, and have developed a real camaraderie because the prisoners and volunteers snicker and embrace each other in victory. “I’m actually very keen on them,” says Sandie Clark, 72, a volunteer who has travelled the hour to Excessive Down each Tuesday for a yr. “They get scarred by the jail, however once they’re with us they keep in mind who they’re. There’s a heat and an intimacy there which isn’t allowed for the remainder of the week. The truth that individuals are inquisitive about them provides them a little bit of confidence – a lot of them are not sure of themselves.” She provides: “They’re going to come back out with greater than only a qualification – it empowers them, they will see different methods of dealing with issues.”





High Down prisoners and volunteers from Brighton Table Tennis Club gather in the prison gym after a session.



Excessive Down prisoners and volunteers from Brighton Desk Tennis Membership collect within the jail fitness center after a session. : Alexi Phillips/HMP

Michael, 51, who was once at HMP Excessive Down and is now at an open jail, regularly returns on day launch for the table tennis membership. “At instances, in the event that they’re brief staffed and there’s been incidents, folks could be left of their cells for 3 or 4 days and solely come out to get their meals and return to their wing,” he says. Tensions attain boiling level, so bodily actions like ping pong “launch that stress”, he believes. “Ping pong additionally brings folks collectively throughout the jail buildings. You’re one large neighborhood in jail despite the fact that you don’t like half of the folks. All of us have to combine, all of us should get on, we’re residing below one another, like a powder keg scenario.”

For Jack Finch, 34, the programme modified his life. He was launched to table tennis in Excessive Down throughout his two-year sentence. On launch he went straight to Brighton Desk Tennis Membership and obtained a full-time teaching job in Moulsecoomb, on the outskirts of town. “There’s nothing for these children to do in Moulsecoomb, so once they see me, they’re comfortable to become involved in one thing. I’ve been there and it’s robust,” he says. “Crime is the very last thing on my thoughts – I’ve obtained a lot occurring,” he says. “However I might’ve simply been tempted to return to it.”

Rosie Meek, a psychology professor at Royal Holloway, College of London and writer of the MoJ’s 2018 review of sport in prison, says that giving folks a optimistic and different identification to that of an offender is a extremely highly effective predictor to cut back reoffending. “Teaching is a priceless and significant solution to do it,” she says. “If we will equip folks with the abilities as soon as they arrive out of jail to turn out to be volunteers of their communities, to have interaction their children, perhaps, in table tennis, and even for some to work on this sector … that’s actually highly effective.”

The programme has confirmed so profitable that the MoJ says it’s “contemplating choices for extending it additional”. To date, the close by girls’s jail, HMP Downview, and Ford open jail in West Sussex have launched comparable schemes. The brand new justice secretary, Robert Buckland, welcomes the ping-pong scheme for “actually harnessing the facility of sport to vary lives and cut back reoffending”. He provides: “It is important that we set offenders up with worthwhile expertise corresponding to teamwork, management and self-discipline, so that they have a greater probability of securing employment on launch and resettling again into the neighborhood.”

Again at Excessive Down, James believes ping pong is his ticket to a life exterior jail. “I’d undoubtedly say having a sport like table tennis, having folks are available in, it opens doorways for lots of people. How are we imagined to be higher folks if we’re not given that chance?”

Some names have been modified