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



Dawn Bishop

COMMENDEE 2022-23: Dawn is Commended as a Workshop Instructor at HMP/YOI Aylesbury, where she runs the team doing the prison’s laundry. Held in high regard by prisoners and colleagues alike, her Governor says “if I had a prison full of Dawns, life would be better and easier for everyone”.

Dawn’s Initial Nominator and Line Manager, Neil Hawes, explains that ‘Dawn started her workshop, The Launderette, from scratch, when we had issues with personal washing on the wings. She helped design and create all the processes of the workshop,’ he says, ‘and helped with prisoner selection to create a good mix of men,’ adding that Dawn ‘included challenging men that she knew needed a chance.’

‘Dawn is so passionate about men having clean washing and being the best people they can be’, says Neil, ‘and her caring nature is loved by all that know her.’ He calls her ‘an asset to us here at Aylesbury and the whole service.’

Andrew Day is the Butler Trust Local Champion and a Custodial Manager at Aylesbury. He says that Dawn ‘welcomes everyone into her area of work with a warm smile and doesn’t make you feel unwanted or that you are wasting her time,’ adding that ‘I could not fit all the positive things people wanted to say in the testimonial box because there was just too many.’ Here are a few of those testimonials, which are all notably full of warmth. Ryan, a Launderette Worker, has this to say:

Dawn is so loving and caring she makes everyone around her happy. One of the things we love her for is making our negative situation into a positive one, she also makes me feel like a genuine human being because it is hard in a place like this. In a way she is our Jail Mother.’

 Another worker in her team, Callam, wrote to say ‘how amazing my boss is’, and how ‘she always has her employees in mind and puts us first.’ He concluded by saying ‘Dawn is just a down to earth person and an absolute pleasure to work with.’ Steven, who also works in The Launderette, wrote a moving testament to Dawn, too:

‘Dawn never lets us down. She also takes other people’s concerns seriously. Dawn was the person who taught me about teamwork and that working is not as hard as I thought it was. She is honestly one of the nicest people I have ever met. To find such a good person in a place like this is a blessing. Above everything else, Dawn has been making me actually be a better person and has taught me that the way i was before and my mindset was wrong.

Colleagues were keen to add their thoughts. Alan Wager is a Workshop Instructor, too, and wrote:

I have always found Dawn to be one of the most courteous and selfless Instructors within the group. Dawn has an amazing work ethic…and this ethic is also displayed by the young men within the workshop. Dawn has worked to give the men a sense of responsibility and ownership of their workshop. Dawn gives 100% at all times… She is supporting and encouraging of change and you can see it works by the way the men are respectful and committed to giving 100% back to her.’

Another testimonial calls Dawn ‘a fantastic person who is a pleasure to know [and] always willing to help anyone: Staff, Prisoners, visitors – it doesn’t matter who you are, because Dawn sees everyone as the same,’ while one simply said ‘if there was more people like Dawn Aylesbury would be a much better place.’ This precise thought was echoed by Aylesbury’s Governor, Mark Allen, who says:

‘If I had a prison full of Dawns, life for everyone would be better and easier.’

Another testimonial strikes to the heart of why Dawn has such an impact, noting that she ‘takes all problems seriously – no matter how small it might seem to others because she understands that everyone is individual and has individual needs.’ That philosophy is outlined by Dawn herself, and worth quoting at some length because it speaks powerfully to the occasionally overlooked importance of the ‘smaller’ human elements in conferring dignity, respect – and rehabilitative opportunities. She begins by outlining the core work which she describes (then disproves in her own words!) as being ‘ordinary’:

‘I will do my best to describe my ordinary job. I work in the laundrette. I’m actually quite proud of this position. It is a service needed to help give the young men in our care, dignity and self-respect by making sure their clothing etc is washed, dried, folded and returned within a few days. They have visits from family and friends where they need to look clean and presentable, they have the gym where they need clean kit and towels and just for everyday wear, they rely on the launderette. I have a team of 7 young men that work fantastically hard and well. There are just 9 washing machines and 9 tumble dryers, on average 40–50 bags of washing from each wing, and there are 7 wings, so I always say that every minute counts. I’m not one to stand back and watch, if they are struggling, I will help.

That’s the main task, but Dawn has a wider vision, saying that ‘Although we need all the hands that we can get in this workshop, I encourage the young men to attend education and the gym even though it will mean I will need to muck in more to get the work done – it’s good for their well-being and future. Some of my young men are worried about the confrontation they may have in education, so as I have a rest room, this is now dedicated to a teacher coming every Monday morning and they can learn in safety. In a lot of cases, it has given them the confidence to further their education.’

Dawn then tells a very powerful story about one of her charges:

I had a young man for a short while that was looking at being released when he is 50. He knew that he would be transferred one day so he came to me and thanked me. I thanked him for all his hard work, he then said that he wanted to thank me for letting him feel like he wasn’t in jail. He said that when he walked out of the workshop he was hit by a realisation that he was still in jail. He thanked me for making him feel like he was doing a normal job like a normal person, not a prisoner looking at 30 years in prison.’

Dawn notes how ‘many people wonder how I manage to work in a prison, especially with young offenders’ and says ‘I always reply that if you forget why they may be in prison, they are young men who you wouldn’t mind your daughter bringing home! Most are polite and respectful; they just want someone to be the same to them.’

A mark of her success inculcating strong values is her account of another young man, who started in the launderette the same time as Dawn. ‘He has left now and doing very well in the outside world (he actually had a lot of good ideas on the running of the launderette). He has written to men that are still with us and always asks after us but said (I realise it was joking) that if I open a launderette on the outside, he would pack his job in and work for me.’

Her concluding words are as satisfyingly clean and sorted as any piece of laundry:

‘My ideal is for everyone to feel worthwhile in life and an important part of the smooth running of the prison. That we are a team.’