Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
AWARD WINNER 2013-14: Denyse is a Prison Officer at HMP Grendon. Described by her Governor as “an amazing person”, and in her nomination as “a true credit to her establishment and the Service [as a whole]”, she receives her Award for her outstanding work as an officer in general, but in particular for her contribution to driving forward the equalities and diversity agenda in the establishment, much of it on her own initiative and in her own time. (This Award is supported by Serco Home Affairs.)
[Denyse McNamee gives her account of the work for which she won her Award]
As a Prison officer at HMP Grendon I felt passionate about the need to treat others equally with dignity and respect. I have taken every chance to raise awareness of Equality and Diversity, thus reducing prejudice, but managing a vast range of events and social opportunities to promote inclusion. As a result, HMP Grendon has become a more respectful environment.
I have been involved in the Equality and Diversity at HMP Grendon since January 2011. I initially took on the voluntary role to assist the Diversity Manager. The reason I wanted to be involved was, I have a strong personal belief that regardless of your skin colour, your religion/ beliefs, sexual orientation, age, physical being that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
Since joining the Prison Service in Mar 2005 I have tried to encourage prisoners in my care to treat each other with these same values. Taking on this role gave me an opportunity to do this.
When the Diversity managers role changed due to changes in the service, under Fair and Sustainable, this affected the we way work. I then took a more strategic role in the team. The prisoners who were directly involved in supporting this were Prisoner Equality Mentors (PEM’s). They really felt the change and contributed a lot of hard work alongside me, I felt it vital that I continued to support them and encourage their motivation in our efforts to raise awareness in all the strands of Diversity.
The determination of the ‘PEM team’ and the positive response from other prisoners in the communities and the Staff at HMP Grendon has given me much inspiration to give up my own time to organise events, research subjects, create information sheets and provide learning opportunities, which I hope have contributed towards reducing prejudice within our workplace & beyond.
I feel that if I can make a difference to just some of the men at HMP Grendon by challenging the way they think and behave then it makes all my work worthwhile.
I feel that it is my duty to try to make a positive difference to peoples lives to help them embrace change and understand an often difficult subject that some don’t always want to take seriously. This has helped to make my working experience more rewarding, to know that I am actively contributing towards improving people lives.
Over the last few years our team has gone from strength to strength. I helped to introduce Holocaust Memorial Day at HMP Grendon in January 2012. In this same year we hosted the Anne Frank exhibition. For this I prepared a business case for the Senior Managers and approached the Friends of Grendon (an independent group of professionals who support events at HMP Grendon) to secure the funds for this event.
It was a fantastic experience for all those who were able to attend, Staff, visitors and prisoners. The team worked brilliantly and were very proud of their achievements. Also we were honoured to have Eva Schloss, the posthumous step-sister of the diarist Anne Frank, as part of this.
Followed by a fantastic Caribbean Band for Black History month in October 2012, which was quoted to be “one of the best events I have ever been to in prison”.
December saw Disability awareness month and speaker who is a paraplegic with a electronic wheel chair. These events are extremely moving. We also raised over £100 for Worlds Aids day.
2013 was no different! The team has grown in strength, despite their clear differences they worked effectively together.
In February during Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual & Trans-gender awareness month, we were fortunate to have Peter Tatchell, the Gay right campaigner into speak.
In March we raised over £150 for comic relief. In July during Gypsy, Romany, Travellers awareness month the men were able to hear about tracing family trees and how you can find if you have travellers in your heritage. This kindly brought to us by the Romany & Travellers Family History Society.
In August during therapy break I was delighted to organise the play “And then they came for me” being performed at HMP Grendon. The production focuses on the life of Anne Frank, Eva Schloss and Ed Silverberg and their experiences of the holocaust. It was such a moving and emotional experience for all the prisoners and Staff that saw it.
Age awareness was a new event we held in September, with information provided by Age UK and the update of the older prisoner policy at HMP Grendon. Often forgotten this strand is vital to raise awareness as the population age of the prisoners continues to increase at the higher age bracket.
Another new initiative for September was for Macmillan Cancer Care. Staff and prisoners jointly got involved in the biggest coffee fundraiser holding a coffee and cake event raising over £350.
The in October we celebrated Black history month, with information about poignant black people such as Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Levi Roots, Benjamin Zephaniah and Sislin Fay Allen.
We also included another first “Hate crime awareness” with a guest speaker Sylvia Lancaster whose daughter was murdered because she dressed as a Goth, for being different.
I know these events make such a difference to the therapeutic work we do at HMP Grendon and to the re-habilitation of the prisoners who engage in therapy.
In the latest IMB report they acknowledged that the diversity strategy had remained positive despite reservations they had about no longer having a dedicated diversity manager. HMIP who visited Grendon in August 2013 notes “Diversity was well managed and outcomes for diverse groups were generally equitable” and that “prisoners praised the support provided by knowledgeable diversity staff”.
My main overall aim has been that I tried to engage prisoners in promoting diversity, helping them to take responsibility for events. I endeavour to integrate with therapy (for example by drawing upon the experiences of victims of crime). I tried to be imaginative so as to be attractive to prisoners and I did this largely in my own time.
[The following article appeared in issue 6 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]
Taking the lead on HMP Grendon and Springhill’s diversity and equalities agenda has earned Wing Officer Denyse McNamee a Butler Trust Award, sponsored by Serco.
Originally becoming involved in the equalities agenda in a voluntary position assisting the Diversity Manager, she leapt at the chance to take a more strategic role in the team.
‘The reason I wanted to be involved was I have a strong personal belief that regardless of your skin colour, your religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, age or physical being, that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity,’ she says. ‘I have tried to encourage prisoners in my care to treat each other with these same values.’
As soon as she moved into the lead role, Denyse organised an event for Holocaust Memorial Day at HMP Grendon, which then led to planning and organising an Anne Frank exhibition – a process that involved putting forward a business case, attracting extra funding, and galvanising men from the prison communities to become fully involved.
The huge success of these events, which included a speech from a Holocaust surviver, inspired a programme of monthly events, covering all kinds of diverse topics including disability awareness, Black History Month, LGBT month and mental health awareness.
Denyse has also become the main support for the Prison Equality Mentors (PEMs), who try to raise awareness and support prisoners and staff. Two prisoners who are currently PEMs commented: ‘To do the role to our best ability, we have needed an officer with as much passion and care as ourselves. We have found this in Denyse.’
Prison Service Manager Neil Davis paid tribute to Denyse’s ‘infectious belief and enthusiastic approach to each event’ as key to her success, while Governor Jamie Bennett cited her imagination and compassion alongside her conscientiousness and dedication. ‘Denyse is an amazing person who makes a real difference to the prison,’ he added.
For more information: contact HMP Grendon