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Marathon has run-on effect

The introduction of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award into the Youth Unit at Christchurch Men’s Prison is paying dividends—not only for the young men themselves, but also for the wider community, after 25 youth from the Unit took part in a sponsored marathon that raised $400 for Te Whare Hauora (formerly Otautahi Women’s Refuge).

The marathon, which was run earlier this year around the inside perimeter of the prison, was the brainchild of the Joshua Foundation’s Chris Allan, who delivers the world’s leading youth achievement award ‘behind the wire’ in association with the Department of Corrections.

The young men who completed the marathon presented the $400 cheque to Te Whare Hauora this afternoon and Kaiwhakahaere Jynine says the money will be put to good use. “We’ll put it towards education for our rangatahi, youth who are working at making positive change for themselves, which will in turn benefit their local community.”

Women’s Refuge was chosen to receive the funds raised because, as Chris explains, “some of these guys have witnessed domestic violence against women in their own homes. It’s great for them to be able to give back to an organisation that may have helped their families in the past.”

The idea for the marathon was born from the Award requirement that participants take part in some form of physical recreation. “The Award challenges young people to get out of their comfort zones and learn a new skill, give service to their communities, take part in an adventure, and get physically active,” says Chris. “Running a marathon was a great way for them to build on the physical activity they were already doing in prison as part of their rehabilitation.”

The Award’s National Office in New Zealand sponsored each lap completed by the young men, while Corrections made the event happen, covering logistics like food and drink. “Fourteen prison staff—including social workers, Corrections Officers and psychologists—got out there and actually ran with the boys, which was pretty awesome,” says Chris.

There are three levels to the Award—Bronze, Silver and Gold. In the Youth Unit, a number of young men have either achieved, or are working towards, Bronze and Silver; one recently achieved Gold—the first ever behind the wire in New Zealand—which will be presented to him on 17 April this year.

“There’s still a misconception amongst some people that the Award is a bit ‘elitist’, and only for the wealthy—possibly because of its association with royalty,” says Karen Ross, National Director for the Award in New Zealand. “But the reality is that the Award is open to all young people aged 14-25—regardless of their gender, socio-economic background or ability. And what we’ve seen from delivering the programme to those who are disadvantaged in some way, such as prisoners and refugees, these young people are often the ones who will benefit most from the programme.”

Chris agrees, saying that the benefits from this experience went way beyond simply improving fitness.

“These boys learned how to set a challenging goal and then commit themselves to achieving it, training twice a week without fail while learning about nutrition and the right sort of foods to fuel the body,” he says. “They were genuinely elated by their accomplishments, and what that did for their self-worth and confidence was priceless.”

Ten prisoners ran a full marathon, 12 ran a half marathon, and three completed their personal best in terms of the number of laps they ran. “Those three at least doubled their previous efforts despite not quite managing a half marathon,” says Youth Unit Principal Corrections Officer, Gary Smallridge, who said it was his proudest day in 29 years working for Corrections.

Tom (not his real name) is one of the young prisoners who completed a full marathon. In prison for drug-related offending, he says the morning runs are helping him to get his life back on track.

When he first came to prison he could barely run 100 metres. By the time he competed in the marathon he was doing daily laps and ‘enjoying the natural adrenalin high’ he gets from physical exertion.

“It’s great to get up in the morning and do something physical,” he says. “It’s so much better than drugs and I am making my family proud of me again.”

Although only 13 of the 25 who took part in the marathon were in the process of achieving an Award level, Chris says that “everyone is now asking when the next Award intake is starting. It’s really inspired the whole Youth Unit to want to get involved in doing the Award.”

The Award is being delivered into Christchurch Men’s Prison Youth Unit thanks to the generous funding of Kiwi philanthropist Michael Friedlander.

Marathon has run-on effect

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