Charlie Salvador and 'In Charlies Corner' Get Behind The Academy Of Hard Knocks

Published November 2015

Since this was published The Academy has moved from Fight Science Gym
It was Charlie's  open letter  to youngsters posted on  'In Charlie's Corner'  that prompted me to mention a friend of mine and the organisation he has tirelessly run from Fight Science gym in Aldershot for over two and a half years when I wrote to Charlie recently.  

Sam Rowe, who's own experience as a four time guest of her majesty, has run The Academy of Hard Knocks single handed while campaigning and harassing local dignitaries and law enforcement agencies for financial help, which has met with limited success and has pretty much managed to continue with the help from many other people donating their time and of course the use of  Fight Science Gym by it's owner Nick Chapman's generously allowing the Academy it's continued use of it and it's facilities.  

AHKIf you read the statistics from the government publications and can make head or tail of them they make pretty grim reading and any effort to try and combat this revolving door of crime, prison, crime, prison by the many organisations involved is a complicated affair fraught with problems at every turn. The multiple and sometimes complex needs of the young people involved means there is so much more going on under the surface than what the general public see

As is so often the case where those that should have the answers to the problems of today's society actually don't, something is put in place that outwardly looks like things are being dealt with and the situation is in hand.   

By that I mean arrest, detain, release, arrest, detain, release repeat. This looks like the government are being tough on crime where in reality we have the same people going round and round, learning more about their chosen field with each new prison they are guest of. At the end of their sentence they are given a cheery wave goodbye and thrown out into where they left off with no real support and any real chance of ever breaking the cycle lessening with every new stay at one of her majesties facilities.  

It costs a fortune to keep someone in prison in financial terms but even those vast sums are dwarfed by the human cost of partners, children and those unfortunate enough to be the victims of this wave of crime. Looking ahead how will this affect us all and if unchecked can the prison system keep up with the flow of people passing through their doors. If you yourself have not been a victim of crime or know somebody who has you can rest assured at some time in the future you will be. It doesn't paint a pretty picture does it.

So often it is the case that there is at least some amount of physical or mental abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, broken homes, unemployment or mental health problems at the root of the problem this is something that not addressed by just locking someone away.  

These are all problems that are difficult to show results for when it comes to justifying the amount of funding you need. How do you prove success and what is actually classed as success?  

Where on the other hand a document saying how many crimes were successfully detected and the perpetrator  incarcerated is something clearly there for all to see. The fact it has cost a fortune doesn't matter as there are results and your paying for it, anyway with the money we all pay going straight into the pockets of the companies who now operate our prisons it's a win win situation with a constant supply of guests returning for their next stay. Issue the prisoners with a loyalty card and isIn Charlies Cornersue points on every visit depending on level of criminal activity, redeemable for a new play station other such goodies, and you are all but guaranteed the holder rushing back as quick as possible as they fill their loyalty cards up with valuable points. Detection rates are up and the public can now sleep in their beds safe in the knowledge that things are in hand. 

As I was saying before my rant I wrote to Charlie, he wrote back as he does but with the words contact Rod Harrison. I already know Rod through his work campaigning for Charlie and did as instructed filling him in on what was happening. Write a piece about The Academy he instructed then the next thing I see that Rod, Charlie and the Corner will be getting behind the Academy in 2016.  

Personally I can't thank you enough for the support I am sure Sam will have something to say on the subject during this chat with him. 

So for those of you who don't know about The Academy of Hard Knocks I spoke to Sam about how things are going since we first spoke way back at the beginning of 2013 prior to the first course at The Academy of Hard Knocks on April 9th, nearly three years ago. 
This is how it went.

Sam RoweJon P : Hi mate hows things been lately? ( Sam has put many hours into this at some cost to him on a  personal level )

Sam Rowe : Good thanks still working and all settled in to my new place. I have the kids here at the moment and with there being six of them it is kind of busy but things have finally picked up for me. 

Jon P : It's good to know things have improved vastly from what they were a while back. Ready to do this? 

Sam Rowe : Always ready mate. 

Jon P : First off there are various courses run in prison that people attend prior to release what makes the one run by The Academy of Hard Knocks so different? 

Sam R : The ones they have do not work. They are the same one's that they were running twenty years ago. Think of it this way. If I attend one of the courses run by the prison they get to tick a box and I am one step closer to release. So as you can see people go through the motions and attend the course, box gets ticked pats on the back all round and the prisoner is one step nearer home. 

Jon P : Yours is different in what way? 

Sam R : Nobody is forced to attend for a start. so straight away you haven't got 18 teenagers in front of you who don't want to be there. We still get people come for one reason or another who would rather be somewhere else but I have no problem kicking them off the course. If they are not ready for it then that's fine but no way is someone going to ruin the opportunity someone else by messing around and not taking things serious. Sometimes a person is just not ready, there is always another time when they are. We also help with other things and try to set them up in a job. It is surprising how a bit of money and not being bored due to nothing to do can chance someones out look. But that is really brushing the surface changing attitudes is a big thing.

Jon P : I believe you get your referrals from people like the youth offending teams. In some respects that could be a little like the  situation with convicted prisoners and boxes being ticked.     

Sam R : That is exactly right so we have opened things up by allowing self referral or parents being able to refer their child directly and not having to go through some official organisation. If someone has taken the time to come down and refer through choice and then wait for a course to be available there is a very good chance they will give it their best. We don't just leave it there we will try and help them as far as possible with getting a job or sorting their housing situation out. We can only do so much but the people on the course know you are there for them and not just because you are getting paid to be there. Come to think of it with no funding we aren't getting paid to be there. 

Jon P : Since I have known you I believe you must have spoken to just about every official in at least the Aldershot area and beyond. I remember a conversation we had right in the beginning I asked about the funding situation or lack of it and you replied to me something along the lines of ' Fuck there funding I will do it myself '. It has to be said but by various means you pretty much have funded it yourself including putting your own wages into things. What is the situation now. Have things become better than they were?  

Sam R : In a word no. I am currently getting all the figures together  to support my claim that this actually works and saves the government money by 'Breaking the Cycle' of repeat offending. The police have some money earmarked for the Academy  and it goes without saying that they have to justify why they are giving it to us. So they want some facts and figures on paper they can study.  

Jon P : I know where your going with this.     

Sam R : (Sam laughs) I have everything they need but instead of doing things as I go along I haven't. So now I will have to spend hours getting it into a presentable format for them. There is a lesson to be learned there.  

Some Fun AllowedJon P : People have been generous with their time and facilities and have helped you with various parts of the course. Here we are waffling away could you tell people reading this who have no idea what the academy is, what exactly you are trying to achieve, for who and how. I appreciate there are going to be too many people to mention but the Mixed Martial Arts community have been a great help to you I believe?   

Sam R : The Academy of Hard Knocks is a program run at Fight Science Gym in Aldershot by myself and various volunteers  aimed at repeat youth offenders  with the aim of 'Breaking The Cycle' of negative behaviour. This is done by attending a 12 week course which consists of health and fitness modules, weights, nutrition and mixed martial arts. As you can imagine the mixed martial arts raised a few eyebrows and was met with such comments as
'Great so you are teaching them to fight better that should help with the terrorising of the community.'
I can fully understand that is how it may look to some people but anyone who knows about any form of combat sport it is hard hard work. We have some top fighters help out and more often than not the students have never heard of them or seen them in action, so I suggest they take a look on YouTube. This usually results in them coming in with a really good attitude raring to go and train with these fighter. There is a lot to be said for how someone feels about them self when these people take time out to train them. It's someone coming to train with them when they have been used to people not wanting them because of their behaviour and resulting in a criminal record. Especially when it comes to getting employment. These are 18 year old people being written off but suddenly top guys are giving up their own spare time to come and train them or teach them how to look after themselves by giving them an alternative to throwing some crap down their throats. I am really grateful to everyone one who has come and helped in anyway or bought a t-shirt the profits of which go to the Academy or sponsored me for one reason or another. The best thing is I know it works. I truly believe that. ( Sam has also raised funds by bungee jumping holding seminars a recent one had  Ian Bishop  who is the world fastest puncher and Shaun Attwood subject of a locked up abroad in attendance and at a recent White Collar Fight Club show he and an ex student who was helping him sell Academy T-Shirts jumped into the ring for a  boxing bout  while the bucket was passed round for a collection Jon P )

Jon P : Got to say your either totally committed or mad as a box of frogs. (No frogs have been harmed during the making of this interview)
Sam R : There have been times I have not been sure myself.

Jon P : I know you also try and get people help should they have other problems and you are currently trying to get a company involved who are building a considerable amount of houses in the area but as of writing this they have cancelled three appointments. There are also some other avenues you have in the pipeline I believe aimed at any of the group who would like to go into the building industry. The Academy really is about more than ticking boxed and at a rough guess there have been some substantial monetary saving to society not to mention to the families of the students.I won't mention any amount of saving at this time as you are compiling the figures currently. So how do you know what happens to the people after the twelve weeks? 

Breaking The CycleSam R : I have been stopped in the town by both ex students or family members saying how they are not scared to leave stuff lying around the house for fear of it vanishing or how there attitudes have changed. You have seen some of the letters from mother of the students yourself. (I have indeed Jon P) I see ex students a lot in various place's and there they are in a company van or the such, they are working and sticking at it and are totally different people to when I first met them. Then there are others that don't make it and are back down the same old road, so it is not all good. 

Jon P : In fairness to you and everyone else in the various non government organisations that are involved with this target group you all only have limited resources and the other associated issues the youngster have, especially drink and drugs, are a difficult thing to work with just on there own let alone the added problem of  bought to the table by being tagged as a persistent offender. This sort of group tend to have a low success rate ( still not sure what defines success here ) but how in hell can you strike people off at 14. 15. 16. or at any age at all, that just says to me we have failed as a society.  
Sam mentioned to me about a 9 year old he was asked to speak to who told him he want to be a prisoner when he is older. His statement was not just a case of a 9 year old seeing something on the television but rather that of being the only member of his family, including extended family, that had not so far been to jail.
Sam continued by asking how he was going to achieve his aims and was informed that he could stab someone. Following up with 'I can stab you if you want'. 
There are plenty of stories like this, so much so that Sam has been approached about holding courses for school age children and has totally rewritten the academy course so that it can be used for that age group. Yet again the funding issue comes into play. Sadly it is a fact that the good and true will always need to see things written down sometimes the things that are perceived as a failure because certain criteria have not been reached are not as they have been judged. Ask the child of an alcoholic parent who is no longer terrified each time dad comes home from the pub but has stopped drinking but is still not working and probably never will if the situation is a success.
As I pass through life I notice more and more that the people who are usually trying to do something however lost the cause may be, are those that themselves have or were written off. It is reminiscent of the old wild west days where the sheriff comes to town and clears up all the mess where every other one has failed. It was because only a few years ago in another town he was being chased by the sheriff but because someone took the time and didn't write him off he is now the sheriff and everyone is benefiting.  

Finishing up I could carry on with this for hours as I have not covered hardly anything I wanted  but please check out the academy there are links below and please offer your support to Sam and the guys and girls. 

One more question then you can say what you have been wanting to say since we started doing this.  

So what about the mixed martial arts are you creating an army? 

Sam R : Jon we totally beast them ( Work them mega hard Jon P ) by the time they finish they have not got the energy to fight anyone. Over the weeks you will see them just lapping it up and going well beyond what they believed they could achieve. By then any thoughts of fighting are well down the priority list. They can see there are more things out there in life.  

I am looking forward to the next course and just quickly I had a call from the High Sheriff of Hampshire the other morning she has helped us out in the past and pulled some strings for us she wants me to go to the actual youth prisons and speak to the youngster who are in this circle of re-offending. It will certainly add another dimension to what the academy does. 

Your right about the numbers I am in the middle of doing them you will be one of the first to know.  

I just want to thank Charlie, Rod and the 'In Charlies Corner' group for adopting the Academy to support in 2016. The more people there are to spread the word can only be a good thing. I'm no bleeding heart, that is not any good real action and commitment is needed, I hope you can see why this is so important to me.
I am truly grateful to you all.      

Jon P : Well that didn't come out at all like I thought it was going to. Anyway please check out The Academy Of Hard Knocks there's some good work going on there. I have put a few links below this for you too check out if you are so inclined. 

Thank you for indulging my ramblings and choosing to support The Academy of Hard Knocks 

Jon Pepperell   
A earlier piece about the Academy  can be read here also an Interview With Sam Rowe

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