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Partners & Clients

Inspired by the work of Joanna Macey and Bo Lozoff  (Active Hope and We're All Doing Time: A Guide to Getting Free) Tree House worked with Prison Staff and Inmates in the Therapeutic Wing of HMP Liverpool to design and deliver a personal development course for 18 prisoners which was delivered over a period of 9 months. 


The programme, Escape From Fortress I, had as it’s premises that however traumatic or difficult our path to here we have the innate capacity to heal ourselves, indeed that we are, though others can help, the only one who can.  The programme comprised of 12 sessions which were structured around the four cyclical stages described by Macey as the Work that Reconnects.

Our Activity

Like Brene Brown, she sees our biggest challenge as our resistance to facing up to the painful realities we find ourselves in, as individuals and as a planet.  In order to really address our pain we need the courage to feel it at its darkest level even when we fear it might overwhelm us.  It is the first stage of the process, appreciation, which is designed to give us that courage as explore ways of appreciating ourselves and the world around us.  For the vast majority of those we worked with this was the first experience they ever had of being told by others that they had qualities which were deserving of appreciation. 


Fuelled by a sense of worth, and a connection with others, course participants were better able to undertake the next stage of the process, Honouring the Pain.  This required participants to think about, express, and seek to atone for pain they had experienced, and had inflicted on others.  Expressing shame both within the group and, in subsequent phone calls and visits from family and friends, lessened the burden being carried by the group and gave them the mental and emotional space to undertake the next two phases of the programme which were, seeing with new eyes and going forward which were principally concerned with developing a series of commitment which the participants made to themselves relating to their future conduct. 

Impact Review

Following the success of the programme in the prison the same programme was offered, with the support of the Workers Education Association, to local people in a programme called Learning How to Fly


Like the prison programme this placed emphasis on liberating our own capacities as people and taking action to transform our own lives and like the prisoners, programme participants described the impact of the programme as akin to a liberation. 


"To say I was sceptical about “Fortress I” when I first agreed to take part is an understatement... (expand to read more)

"To say I was sceptical about “Fortress I” when I first agreed to take part is an understatement. On that first day I listened to Lucy and Christina tell us their hypothesis on the programme and I thought “well they don’t care about our opinion - it’s either their way or the highway. They’re just using us as guinea pigs – a group of men who they can psycho-analyse and come to a conclusion with statistics to say they were right about the impact the programme would have.” But I decided to stick with it and how wrong was I. It became apparent after the third session that we as a group would shape and form the programme – a collaboration – and take out of it what we put into it with no promises of a quick fix. It was like nothing I had experienced before concerning establishment run programmes which I had taken part in. Then to be honest with you what came next blew me away with disbelief. What’s going on here I thought? On the floor lay numerous laminated cards with teddy bears on with different facial expressions and body mannerisms. It was like being back at nursery school. “What was going on - are these two women serious?” It was then explained that we were to pick a card with a bear on it that best suits your mood. What came next was a real eye opener. You had a group of 10 grown men, 3 women all with their own issues, problems, needs and most in recovery from substance abuse each taking their turn talking about their emotions and how they were feeling inside which was quite strange and carried with it a fear of the unknown. We supported and challenged each other through this process. This exercise- The Bear Cards - became the focal point of most sessions and it sort of exposed us as human beings as well as solidifying the group as a whole and a resource for all taking part. This is one of many aspects that will stay with me and will practise on a daily basis - talking about how I feel inside, my emotions and why I feel the way I do; it enables me to be more honest with myself and others and to express myself in a manner that I never would have in the past and for that I am so grateful to “Fortress I” and the people who took part. I am no longer a sceptic about the benefits and impact this programme can offer." AM

“Before “Fortress I” I always wondered why I made the same mistakes over and over again... (expand to read more)

“Before “Fortress I” I always wondered why I made the same mistakes over and over again, why things never change, why every time I trust people they let me down. I have been in prison since 2010. To be honest every course I do is the same, always blaming other things, other people, parents, drugs, community, friends, myself, where I was brought up, the government, police, money. Not once I have ever done a course where someone has said you can leave this course today if you want but if you stay it will be hard and by the way it might be because of the way you think or stuff you have learnt why you have all these problems so let’s get to the root of the problem and go from there. Christina and Lucy came in and used big words and clever stuff and other people said: “it’s going to be too hard can you make it dumber?” Christina and Lucy said, “no – why don’t you lot up your game and be cleverer.” I thought thank god I have met two people who I respect here who don’t just think prisoners are thick, who aren’t pushovers and I am going to actually learn something here. I can’t just say yes or no when I am meant to. If I switch off I am going to fall behind and get lost so I am going to have to put some effort in - here is a challenge - I am made up I am going to learn something. For once I learnt about me, my brain, my thoughts, my feelings. I learnt that only I can change me; not money, not drugs, not prison, not even sadness. I don’t even think being locked behind a door for 23 hours a day or working in a workshop for £12 a week and getting locked up at 6pm for 4 years changed anything. I still would of got out and started selling drugs because I never learnt a thing if I am honest. I just said yes and no when I was meant to then get told to do another course which says the same things and I know when to answer or play bum or say yes and not. " JA

"I now know it would have been a huge mistake not to have taken the course... (expand to read more)

“I entered the “Fortress I” programme with the attitude of it can’t hurt to try it. I now know it would have been a huge mistake not to have taken the course and to have shied away like I have done in the past. Right from day 1 I could tell this course had loads to offer; still not sure how I would benefit from this, something told me the programme was for me. I have listened to everything “Fortress I” offered, but what mainly stuck with me and has helped me a lot was the hypo thoughts. I would put myself down and tell myself I was not good, always seeing the negative in everything. I have learnt these hypo thoughts had become the norm. And if you don’t know something is broke you don’t know it needs fixing. Now thanks to “Fortress I” I look for a positive in everything no matter how small. Any positive is better than a negative. Also the risk on purpose part has helped me a lot. In the past, I would have backed out of something like this, but thanks to “Fortress I” I’ve risked on purpose and I am now looking forward to challenges that come my way. All in all “Fortress I” has helped me see what I couldn’t see myself. " JA

“When I started “Fortress I”, I didn’t know what to expect but what I do know was that it was most definitely worth pursuing... (expand to read more)

“When I started “Fortress I”, I didn’t know what to expect but what I do know was that it was most definitely worth pursuing because I had to change my whole demeanour from the person I was to the person I’m becoming. Where “Fortress I” started for me in truth, was the appreciative interview. This was where all group members could appreciate each other, and say a bit about themselves to kind of break the ice, so everybody felt comfortable and relaxed in each others’ presence. This for me was when all masks were put down; I realised I allowed myself to wear masks when I was faced with certain situations within my past. And I knew if I kept wearing these masks then I would never be true to myself or to other people. I think to myself on occasion that the human body, especially the human mind, are wonderful pieces of engineering, that enable us to achieve the most astonishing outcomes with the ability to use the skills we teach ourselves and learn from each other. I think it is quite remarkable. A very trusted person once said to me “we are all architects of our own lives”. I have never heard a more meaningful sentence in my whole life. Appreciation, Honouring the Pain, Seeing with New Eyes and lastly Going Forward - these 4 stages of changing the way I was as a person have certainly turned my outlook on life from a negative into a huge positive. " GB

Escape From Fortress I