Inclusion and Rehabilitation – The Ball at Port Phillip Prison

The Ball in front of Port Phillip Prison

We knew we were going to a prison rehabilitation project, but as we arrived I realized: this is a real prison; in fact a high security prison. George Halkias is the incredible mind who started the Big Issue Australia Street Soccer programmes and facilitates Melbourne City in the Community social programs in the prison system. He has been implementing this poignant rehabilitation project in the prison systems for more than a decade.

Knowing no cameras were allowed in, we took a team photo at the prison entrance. After leaving our phones/bags at the reception and signing in our football equipment, we were led through several heavy security doors, corridors and zones until we arrived in the Marlborough Unit of Port Phillip Prison for inmates with intellectual disabilities. We were kindly received by the guards and prisoners. The participants were very excited to hear The Ball’s story, and asked many questions: Is everyone allowed to sign? What happens with The Ball after the World Cup? Where do you guys stay when you travel?

After our presentation we went outside into the yard for some FairPlay Football. We presented our 6 FairPlay rules:

  6. HAVE FUN!

George noted that these are the values he usually practices with the participants. Each team chose their team name and goal celebrations, amped and ready to try a round of our FairPlay games with our no dribbling and giving 1.5 meters of space to the person with the ball, rules.

Sarah & I (Iris Albulet) were the only women on the pitch, however we were well integrated and even scored some goals! The first round of FairPlay football was difficult for the participants at first. Not being able to dribble is hard to remember, natural instinct takes over. But the guys all agreed post-match that this was a real eye opener for them, because it forced them to rely on greater communication with each other and play together as a unit – something that is not necessarily common in their lives. After our FairPlay matches, we played regular football, which was endearing because you could see them taking what they learned from FairPlay football and implementing a more inclusive match.

These men may be in a high security prison, but they are also human beings at their core, who crave social inclusion, mentorship, and face to face interaction. Many of them discussed how they are working extra hard to be positive inmates and role models for younger inmates within the system. Another, who was celebrating his birthday, noted it was the best birthday of his life, playing with us and being sober for the first time in many years. Wow, what an incredible piece of feedback. It is clear George’s weekly programming has brought positive change in their lives.

We ended the session with a circle of heading The Ball and the guys were all eager to sign. A staff member within the prison took pictures for us, but later realized that she had been given a camera without an SD Card in it. Sometimes the best moments have no photos, but leave lasting memories in our minds. We will remember this day and wish our participants all the best for a positive rehabilitation and eventual release. And guess what, as we were leaving the unit, the staff member found an SD card and gathered us all together to get a final picture: All hands on The Ball! A big thanks to everyone for their excitement and giving positive energy and love to The Ball – we will carry it onwards.

The Ball in front of Port Phillip Prison (photo by Hamish Appleby)

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