Jailbreak is fundraising for attention seekers

It’s just another excuse for students to boost their egos and have a bit of a laugh with their mates.


You’ve probably heard of Jailbreak, the student “charity” project that raises money in a challenge in which students have to travel as far as they can without spending any of their own money.

In Southampton, the challenge is run by SUSU RAG and all of the money will go to this year’s well deserved charities: Make-a-Wish Foundation UK, Student Minds and The Red Lipstick Foundation.

The rules of Jailbreak are simple: don’t spend your own money and get as far away as possible. Each team has 36 hours to get from the starting point to wherever they can without dipping into their own pocket. Last year’s winners, Pete Johnson and Aaron Shakides, managed to get as far as Cyprus, having collected enough money on a train from Southampton to London to buy a last minute flight.

Jail Break Map

The successes (and failures) of last years contest

On the basis it seems like a good charity initiative, getting students competing with one another whilst raising money at the same time. And, admittedly the challenge does seem like a lot of fun.

But as soon as you realise that the money raised during the 36 hour challenge goes directly into the teams pocket so that they can use it for their travel expenses, the magical illusion of it being a charity driven challenge wears off.

The money actually given to charity is all raised before the challenge begins, in the way of sponsorship (a minimum of £150 per team).

This means most, if not all, of the money collected during the challenge itself is going towards nothing other than an impromptu student vacay.

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The money raised during the challenge relies on the generosity of strangers and their blind faith in believing that their well-intended £20 donation will actually go towards something worthwhile. In reality this is just another step closer to a flight to somewhere in the Med and the eternal glory that awaits the winning team.

Can this really be an ethical and honest challenge when the people given won’t fully understand what they’re giving money to?

After speaking with RAG about this they told us

We tell students clearly in the briefing meeting before Jailbreak that if a member of the public gives them a charitable donation during the challenge, then they are legally required not to spend that money on travel… Once a member of the public has been made aware of what the team are doing and they want to help them out then they can use this money to purchase tickets.

So charitable donations are a no-go. But regular donations, they’re absolutely fine. It seems that this small distinction between the terminology which can and can’t be used to describe the money received during the challenge makes the deception all okay.

Here’s the problem, as legally sound and law abiding as that argument may be, many members of the public will not fully understand, even when explained to, what Jailbreak is and where their money is going. The distinction between a charitable donation and a regular donation won’t always be well explained, or obvious and so a lot money will be misplaced.

A participant in last years Jailbreak told us:

I had a lot of fun but I felt like some people didn’t understand they weren’t giving directly to charity, even when we tried to explain.

The participants in the challenge pretty much need the donations in order to compete, so it is in their best interests to get as much money as possible, whether that’s done ethically or not. Who cares about charitable transparency when your pride is at stake?

A lot of people donate to these onesie-adorned, charitable students without realising that their money isn’t actually going to charity. These wonderfully generous, yet naive strangers would be better off giving their money directly to SUSU RAG or one of their nominated charities.

SUSU RAG seem all too happy to let this happen, with no history of disciplining teams who break the rules. They are content to sit back relax while teams buzz around Europe on their ill-gotten gains.

The challenge isn’t honest or ethical, even when it attempts to be.

To rattle a collection box in the name of charity when the donations will actually be spent on flights to Turkey is not only deceptive but it takes people’s loose change away from actual charity.

Jailbreak is just another charitable guise which students use boost their egos and have a bit of a laugh with their friends.