Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

CHRIS O’SULLIVAN (HMP Hewell)

CHRIS O’SULLIVAN (HMP Hewell)

AWARD WINNER 2016-17: Prison Officer Chris is a Healthy Living Instructor at HMP Hewell, and wins an Award for the exceptional humanity, dedication and skill he brings to all aspects of his role, which he has taken to a level well above normal expectations. He is described by one prisoner as “an inspiration”, and by his Deputy Governor as “an outstanding public servant and human being”. [This Award is supported by Serco Justice & Immigration.]

Prison Officer, Chris O’Sullivan is a Healthy Living Instructor at HMP Hewell, and has taken his role to a whole new level that’s now considered ‘best practice’ and is attracting attention from other prisons in the estate.

His nominator Belinda Garratt, Custodial Manager for Activities at Hewell (and a previous Butler Trust Winner herself), says Chris “has a fantastic rapport with prisoners that encourages then to make themselves better citizens.” He still brings the same enthusiasm and commitment to work as when he started in 1995, she says, and “truly is a pleasure to work with.” Belinda describes “the respect and admiration of all those that come into contact with him, staff and prisoners”, and his passion to promote “well-being for all”.

The list of his activities is wide and deep, so here are just a few: he’s involved in Rideout Theatre Warwickshire, which brings University students to produce plays with meaningful themes and gets prisoners to debate and take part. Rideout’s Co-Director Saul Hewish said in a ‘thank you’ note to Chris: “I have been running this course for 12 years now, and the visit you planned and managed today was by far the best I’ve seen.”

Chris has also created drama in the prison with Birmingham’s renowned Geese Theatre, who called him “a wonderful ambassador for the prison service.”

Chris also brought in Fortnum & Mason’s Choir Master to run a twelve-week course, ending with prisoners performing in front of staff, other prisoners, and families. Recalling it, he said, “When I saw the pride in those six offenders’ faces performing, and knowing what it meant to them, I felt very proud and humbled.”

He’s also raised money for charity and encouraged prisoners to do the same, says Belinda, with a local school, veterans, and the homeless among the beneficiaries. Elderly prisoners have benefited as he’s introduced sports like wheelchair aerobics and chair bowls to help those with limited movements.

Other agencies he has involved include veteran organisations and two pilot programmes on domestic violence, “Man in the Mirror”, with the Away Forward Foundation. Their Managing Director Alexandra Ford says, “Chris is inspirational; he re-energises me, I can feel his enthusiasm.”

He’s made a real success of introducing prisoner wellbeing days “looking at smoking cessation, diabetes, healthy man checks, sexual health awareness, Pilates and testicular cancer promotions, healthy eating and general advice and guidance”.

Belinda says he “has done so much work in promoting wellbeing that we have other staff from prisons all over the country coming to Hewell to see the work Chris undertakes.”

In his own time, Chris also provides sport therapy and massage for both staff and prisoners, all “without any acknowledgement or praise,” says Belinda. “This typifies Chris: he is hard working, caring, decent, and one of the most sincere individuals I have ever encountered. He is an inspiration, he is a role model and he is an absolute asset.”

Jacqueline Quirke, Local Butler Trust Champion and Head of Reducing Reoffending at Hewell, agrees. Chris helps prisoners “progress in confidence and self-esteem” and this “improves their well-being.” Jacqueline calls him “a change champion, he makes things happen and has the ability to make others want to change for the better.” After decades working in the service, she notes, “he still displays the same pride, enthusiasm and commitment to making a difference to others. He is an outstanding role model.”

Typical of so many Butler Trust Winners, “he does not do this for recognition. He simply does this because he cares and wants to help people reach their potential. He is completely unaware of how wonderful he is and the impact he has on others.”

Jacqueline explains that “Chris’ natural easy style make people want to work with him. He managed to persuade a number of external agencies to dedicate a full day delivering their services at nil cost for the well-being day. This is a real strength of his and he makes it happen because he is so passionate about wanting to improve prisoners lives, his enthusiasm is infectious and it makes others want the same goal.”

Describing him as someone who “does not have a ‘Can’t Do Button’” (a common virtue among so many working in the prison service), she adds that “he is very creative and is constantly thinking of ways in which to help and support others to make a difference.”

One prisoner described Chris as “truly inspirational”, while another, with complex needs, said “Mr O always treats me like I really matter and takes time to help me.” Les*, also an offender, said “Mr O’Sullivan always pushes us to be better people, he really makes a difference, he made a difference to me.”

Jane Bailey, Hewell’s Deputy Governor, offered an exemplary testimonial, quoted here in full:

“In nominating Chris O’Sullivan I am acknowledging him both as a professional colleague but also as someone who truly demonstrates day in day out compassion, care and empathy. He is someone that always has time for others, he is able to listen, to mentor and to guide, as well as, if necessary, take a firmer line. However if he does take the firmer line he has the rare ability to do that in a way that doesn’t cause hurt or animosity. Chris is someone who is modest, so at times when he is praised he becomes embarrassed or self-conscious. This in many ways typifies Chris: he is not someone that seeks to do things to gain praise or glory. Instead, he does things because he genuinely cares for others. He does not necessarily in his own opinion do anything extraordinary – he just does his job. But what a great job he does and that is the reason for nominating him, he is someone who absolutely deserves recognition for being an outstanding public servant and human being.”

Chris himself says, “I can honestly say I still enjoy coming into work after twenty one and a half years. My ethos is that I would rather give something a go and so I won’t accept barriers as to why it won’t work. I have been lucky enough to work with some inspirational and creative staff, alongside external agencies and offenders in my role as the Healthy Living Instructor.”

And he’s not stopping! He adds that his role “is still developing and varied, which excites me, but I have a couple of projects…” For which read: there’s a lot more to come.

* Name changed

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