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COMMENDEE 2021-22: “The first few days in custody for a new reception can be terrifying,” says Max Rumley, Emily Hazard’s initial nominator and her manager at HMP/YOI Doncaster. Emily changed that and has created a wholly different experience on the Early Days Centre (EDC), the unit for new arrivals. A place, says Max, that is now “as welcoming and supportive as possible.”

‘She smashed it and left a legacy’

Emily began the task of turning things around by seeking out officers with a personal interest in getting this crucial ‘first experience’ right. She then recruited a group of ‘Insiders’ – peer support workers who know prison life and wanted to support newcomers. A year or so on and visitors give “glowing feedback”, says Max, and call her work “best practice” and “inspirational” and have said the Early Days Centre feels like a therapeutic community.

The Insiders are key, and Emily takes huge care “handpicking individuals who want to make a difference to other prisoners’ lives. They play a key role.” The first thing new arrivals do on walking into the unit is simple but special: they sit down and have a coffee and a casual conversation with an ‘Insider’ whose main role at that point is to make them feel safe and at ease on their first night at HMP Doncaster.

Insiders “make sure their cell is clean and has all the basic equipment and reassure them that they’ll be there the next morning to pick up with them and properly induct them into the prison.” This all happens whether they arrive at one o’clock in the afternoon – or at one in the morning: an Insider is always there to support them. It’s “a non-negotiable term set by Emily herself”, say Max.

Insiders include lifers, men recalled to prison, and young adults. So if someone turns up with specific needs or concerns there’s an Insider who can provide advice based on personal lived-experience.

Among many positive outcomes from Emily’s efforts, notes Max, the “absolutely crucial one is a significant reduction in self-harm and violence.” He calls Emily “a truly inspirational individual who is driven by her passion to provide an environment where prisoners can grow and prosper.”

Testimonials – alongside their own nominations – from prisoners who have benefited first-hand from Emily’s approach reinforce its impact from a more hands on point of view. ‘Mark’ (name changed) writes eloquently – and with the renewed passion of a long-term prisoner who has found renewed hope:

“In my 17 years of being in prison I have never witnessed a manager with so much passion and care towards the residents. When I came here nobody wanted to give me a chance because of my past and pre-conceptions but Emily saw the potential and encouraged me to lead the Insider project.

By giving me a chance, I have been able to prove to others I can be better than other people believed I could. Emily’s door is always open. In all my time in jail I have never put anybody forward for an award and in 17 years I have met many officers – none of which have shown the dedication Emily has.”

Another prisoner, ‘Andy’, who also nominated Emily, says much the same, and points out the longer-term results of her work – while hoping she realises the good she does:

“In all my time in custody I have never seen a manager take over a role and completely change the dynamic as Emily has. She has created a peer mentor team which in my opinion is second to none, not only in Doncaster but the entire prison network.

The changes Emily has made to the residents’ early days in custody will not be forgotten throughout our sentence. I would like to thank her personally and on behalf of all the residents whose lives she has changed, and I hope she realises the good she has done.”

Colleagues agree, and often added a personal note, too, with Michelle thanking Emily as both a professional and personal inspiration, who says she is “forever grateful to Emily for her honourable service”. Ryan, among similar remarks, summed it up pithily by saying “you’ve smashed it and left a legacy.”

Director John Hewitson agrees, and says the enormously positive change is all thanks to Emily:

“She has put her heart and soul into making a difference; she should be so proud of what she has achieved and of the effect she has on those around her, her colleagues included.”

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