COMMENDEE 2017-18: Jason Edwards is a Carpentry Instructor at HMP Parc in Mid Glamorgan, Wales, with a gift for connecting with young offenders. One – aged seventeen – is his initial nominator, while several others have offered moving testimonials. Consistently rated by inspectors, he was recently described by one, making an Estyn* visit, as “the most inspirational teacher he had ever met”.
[Summary of original nomination and supporting materials submitted to the Trust]
The initial nomination is one of the shortest of the several hundred received this year – and, in its straightforward way, also one of the most eloquent:
“I want to nominate Jason Edwards. He is a woodwork teacher and a really good guy who always helps you when you are at work. He will always find time to sit with you and talk about things if you have problems and help you. He will go out of his way if you don’t know what to do. He does good things. I have never had an argument with this man cos he is fair and sees you for who you are with no judgement. He is one of the best guys you can get and we need to cut and paste him throughout the prison. He has helped so many of the boys in here and has made a lot of difference to their lives. Everyone respects him cos he genuinely cares and wants the best for us boys. I have never had any idea what I am going to do when I get out but now I know, I am going to do carpentry. There is nothing bad I can say about Jason, he is the best.”
Butler Trust Local Champion and Parc Community Engagement Manager Phil Forder calls Jason “a master craftsman” and “superb role model” who “commands enormous respect”. Phil describes Jason as having “a natural, quiet way about him that is like an oasis in a storm.” As Phil notes, you only have to read some of the young offenders’ words about Jason when they write to him to get a sense of his impact. Here are extracts from some of the letters and cards he gets:
‘You always give me enough time, one to one, to show me how to use tools correctly so it makes me feel good and I have a great feeling of achieving and I know I am going to make something of myself when I get out.’
‘You are the best teacher in Parc. I will miss working with you and talking with you… see you soon and make sure you keep my cup safe. It is special.’
‘Can you send out the plaque I made for my Nan as I am now in education and I might not see you again as I am out soon. Thanks a lot for all you have done for me. You always talk sense.’
‘I will very much miss your class, it has helped me move forward. I will take the plaque with me – “I never count the days, I make the days count.”’
‘You are definitely one of the best guys I’ve ever met.’
Jason’s approach involves high levels of praise and encouragement and a belief in each young offender that makes them believe they can do something, with Jason’s help, which will make them proud. Teresa Adams, Head of Learning and Skills at Parc, calls him “a one-man intervention.”
Another young offender, also 17, wrote some moving words to Jason:
“Working with you has given me a different outlook on life. You always say ‘Life’s too short to be wasting it in prison’ and you are 100% right. I am only 17 years old and I still have time to turn my life around and start again, and that’s what I’m going to do, I promise you that. I want to get out and make my Nan proud of me. I’ve let her down so much these past few years… at first I seen you as just a teacher, now I class you as a friend and I will never forget you till the end of my days. I won’t mess up again, I promise you. You will always have a place in my thoughts. I wish you all the best in your life.”
Parc’s Director, Janet Wallsgrove, is “extremely proud” of Jason, and further explains that as Jason develops his already high standard of work to include upholstered pieces, he is building on the qualifications he offers by forging links with a local furniture company for placements and possible employment.
Finally, a telling recollection in Jason’s own words: “I think the most satisfying moment I can recall is seeing a lad struggling to complete a project and then watching him it give it to his mother on a ‘family day’. The look of astonishment on her face matched by the look of pride on his speaks for itself.”
* Estyn: Welsh verb meaning ‘to reach (out), stretch, or extend’, and the name of Wales’ education and training inspectorate.