From east London to Argentina: The power of our network
The paths of LJ Flanders and Mario Raimondi would never have crossed if it weren’t for both being members of the National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime.
During a 14-month sentence in HMP Pentonville in 2011, LJ devised his own Cell Workout fitness regime. He later turned it into a best-selling book, and now hosts his own health and well-being workshops in UK prisons, which he formulated using the NASDC Theory of Change.
Mario is co-founder and Executive Director of El Desafio, a non-profit organisation empowering poverty-stricken children in Rosario, Argentina’s third-largest city. He met NASDC co-founder and Secretariat Justin Coleman at the Beyond Sport Global Awards in London in 2015, where El Desafio was nominated for a Sport and Social Inclusion award. They kept in touch.
Earlier this year, Mario was asked by the Rosario state government for ideas for new youth sport programmes in Argentinian prisons. Hearing this, Justin invited him to LJ’s Cell Workout workshop at HMP Wandsworth, where he joined inmates in a session on well-being, mindset and resilience. Mario was blown away by what he saw.
“In Argentinian prisons, there is no such thing as rehabilitation,” he explains. “To see LJ working so positively with these guys was huge.”
Through the NASDC, Mario subsequently invited LJ to present at the Happy Cities Festival in Rosario on October 27-28. Over 3,000 delegates will be present to hear influential speakers such as leadership expert Margaret Heffernan and former FBI executive Lauren C. Anderson. Now LJ is on the bill, too. Ahead of his trip, he’s done an interview in Clarin, the biggest selling newspaper in Spanish-speaking South America.
“Listening to LJ is going to be a wake-up call for everyone here,” says Mario. “It’s going to be a slap in the face – but in an inspiring way.
“Nobody here in Argentina is asking themselves if we can work with young offenders and introduce them to a healthier lifestyle. Yet it has benefits not just for them, but for all of society. It will be of major public interest and a great way of introducing this kind of solution to the national agenda.
“I believe very strongly and deeply in the vision of the Alliance in terms of collaboration. The drive for change is global and we need different perspectives and points of view in order to resolve problems. The fact that LJ from England may be able to influence the youth justice system in Argentina shows how powerful that collaboration can be.”
There is currently no such thing as youth justice in Rosario. Officially, no under-18 can be jailed, but judges routinely ignore this. Once released, 64% of them return to jail at a later date. Violence, drugs, homicides and corruption are rife, but rehabilitation programmes are almost non-existent. That’s why Mario believes LJ will have such an impact.
As for LJ, he confesses he is “really excited” about the opportunity to speak and host workshops at the festival.
He reflected: “When Mario joined my session in Wandsworth and saw people sat in a circle discussing resilience and not giving up, he couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘This is hope! You’re trying to turn people’s lives around!’ When I asked him about rehabilitation in Argentinian prisons, he just laughed.”
LJ’s initial programme in Wandsworth finished in July. He’s now going through evaluation but says he’s been receiving phone calls almost daily from other prisons asking when he can start there. “Word has obviously got around,” he laughs.
“My next step is to recruit ex-offenders and put them on six-month training programmes to deliver Cell Workout programmes in prisons, youth clubs, schools, colleges and boot camps.
“That’s throughout Britain, but the Argentina trip is my first international link. It’s a great opportunity and it would never have happened without the Alliance.”