Prison leavers’ Everest challenge to promote rehabilitation
Two former prison residents and two prison officers are planning to climb Mount Everest together in a bid to raise awareness of reform and rehabilitation.
The Everest Reform Project aims to show a different side to those who have been incarcerated, tracking their rehabilitation journeys from jail to the top of the world’s tallest mountain. They plan to raise funds, promote awareness and overcome obstacles as they rebuild their lives.
The project is being spearheaded by David Haze, who finished a second prison sentence in April. He hopes the project helps remove the stigma around the term ‘ex-offender’ by proving that prison leavers can still achieve great success.
David told the Alliance of Sport: “As well as raising awareness of rehabilitation and changing perceptions of prison leavers, we want to show others who are serving, or have served, a prison sentence that prison is not the end. With the right commitment and attitude we can achieve anything we put our minds to and as long as we all work together.”
David will be accompanied on the expedition by Kam Stevens, another ex-prison resident who now works for Penal Reform Solutions, who are also supporting the project. Kam is studying to be a film director at Bath Spa University having won a scholarship through the Longford Trust, a charity supporting rehabilitation.
One of the prison officers joining them is Karen Lawrence, who says reaching the summit together “would be the ultimate symbolic event of what we’re trying to achieve”.
David adds: “I like the twist that when we were inside, our lives were in the officers’ hands, but now their lives are in ours as we help them reach the top of Everest.”
The climb, planned for 2023, will also feature a ground support team whose members have also got criminal records. Two TV channels are already interested in turning the project into a documentary and talks have started with a potential big-name ambassador.
David, 35, is a “born adventurer” who has undertaken other charity challenges in his chosen sport of paddle boarding. He’s currently planning a campaign called ‘The Untamed Beast’, aiming to set the fastest time paddle boarding the longest rivers in Europe.
Although a quest to paddle board along the UK’s four longest rivers (the Tay, Severn, Bann and Thames) in October had to be postponed due to Covid-19, he did recently deliver an oak tree from Poole Harbour to the Isle of Wight via paddle board for Gone West and complete a 100km walk in 24 hours for the Tribe Freedom Foundation.
Before his recent charity work, David’s ‘journey’ took him from successful Forex broker in the City of London to serving two terms for burglary. In his words, he got “too big for his boots” and was fired from his job, before hiding his unemployment from friends and family and descended into drinking, drug taking and gambling. “Things spiralled out of control and I went into a really dark place,” he confesses.
Whilst preparing to face a charge of handling stolen goods, he absconded for five weeks and was caught burgling. He says he was “having some sort of mental breakdown”.
After serving his sentence, he worked for a recruitment company and then started his own business, which was initially successful. But a relationship breakdown resulted in mental health difficulties and things spiralled again once the business got into trouble. He fell back into burglary, was caught again and served five years and four months.
During his second spell in HMP Guys Marsh in Dorset, he met Dr Sarah Lewis from Penal Reform Solutions, an organisation seeking to transform organisational culture in prisons and correctional services.
David explains: “Sarah’s work on developing growth mindsets, changing prison climates and rehabilitation cultures helped me change. It gave me hope for the future.
“I had a fixed mindset that people on the outside were going to judge me. I was embarrassed about it, but now I’m determined to embrace it. I’m out now and not hiding about where I’ve been. I want to try and make a difference.
“She helped me get a role as a Business Engagement Associate whilst I was inside. I liaised with employers on the outside and helped other prisoners who were about to be released with employability and finding work. It really inspired me.
“Now Penal Reform Solutions are supporting us with the Everest Reform project. We really want to use the expedition to break down barriers, tackle rehabilitation and help reduce the reoffending rate in this country.”