EVANGELINE SIMPSON (HMP/YOI Chelmsford)
COMMENDEE 2022-23: Evey is Commended for her outstanding contribution to safer custody, as Head of HMP/YOI Chelmsford’s Safety Department, and in particular for her compassionate and tireless support for staff around deaths in custody, from the original incident, through to the Coroner’s inquest and beyond.
‘Evey goes above and beyond, every single day, to improve and protect the safety of everyone at HMP Chelmsford’, writes her initial nominator and former colleague Janice Walker. ‘She works with the most challenging prisoners.’ She addresses these challenges directly. She forges good practice ‘at every opportunity’, from fresh contacts with hitherto broken families and staff awareness on mental health issues or learning difficulties to dealing with prolific self-harmers or confronting violence and other unacceptable behaviour.
Her exceptional role maintaining ‘The Listeners’ scheme run by The Samaritans throughout the pandemic was highlighted by many. The Samaritans praised her ‘honesty and integrity’ and ‘superb sense of humour’, noting that ‘The Listeners and my whole prison team like and respect her.’ The Listeners themselves added that ‘all the men felt Evey strives to help them with any issues,’ and appreciate that ‘she appreciates them and their hard work, and makes them feel good about themselves. One noted that ‘Chelmsford was a safer prison because of her and her knowledge.’
But it is in her role around deaths in custody that Evey has shown the depth of compassion combined with superb professionalism that makes her such an ‘absolute asset’ to both HMP Chelmsford and HMPPS. Janice explains how Evey supports staff from the original incident ‘through to the inquest and beyond’. Whether offering reassurance, training, or support for ‘virtual’ Coroner’s inquests, and ‘always available to chat if they have worries’, she’s always working hard, says Janice, to make everything ‘run smoothly and be a less daunting experience for everyone called to attend.’ Recently Evey attended Chelmsford Coroner’s Court every day, she adds, for a particularly harrowing inquest, supporting staff throughout, ‘despite the potential impact of vicarious trauma on herself.’
Butler Trust Local Champion and Culture & Safety Lead Dee Barba shared several more testimonials from colleagues. One, Emily, says ‘It astounds me as to the amount of work and dedication she puts in every single day’, calling Evey ‘A true asset to the Prison service, especially HMP Chelmsford.’ Laurie, meanwhile, says that ‘Evey, with her admin Andrew, practically ran the whole of the safer custody team for a long period of time’ and ‘excelled in all she does.’ Andrew himself offers his own vivid and informed testimonial based on working ‘directly with and for Evey’ for several years during which he has ‘never felt anything other than totally supported by her.’ Calling her ‘a dedicated professional’ who is ‘driven and extremely competent’, his ringing endorsement continues:
‘She is always available to help, to advise, to support or just listen should anyone feel the need to vent their frustrations. An inspired leader and a real credit to and asset for HMP Chelmsford. Evey is an individual who has so much care and passion, [and] extends a warm, chipper disposition to the people in our care, while [making] a special effort to help individuals. She buckles down, and consistently attempts to lift the spirits of people around her. Evey has been pivotal in running the Safety Department to the highest of standards.’
HMP Chelmsford’s Deputy Governor, Mark Howard, agrees wholeheartedly, saying ‘Evey tirelessly champions better safety outcomes for Prisoners and Staff at HMP Chelsmford,’ adding that:
‘Evey is an absolute asset and credit not only to Chelmsford but also HMPPS. She is very highly regarded throughout HMP Chelmsford and also in the wider Prison setting.’
Evey explains how important she felt it was to ‘keep spirits high’ and to just ‘be there’ for the staff and prisoners during the pandemic, driving welfare checks and sourcing activities and materials until she was ‘running the equivalent of a “Blockbuster Shop” from my office.’ Her remarkable support for the Samaritan’s Listener scheme led to her creating several COVID-safe courses creating ‘over 50 new Listeners’ – and to The Samaritans calling Chelmsford ‘one of the best prisons in the country for keeping the Listener scheme running during the Pandemic’. Understandably she adds that ‘this is something I am incredibly proud of.’
Evey’s own description of her role related to deaths in custody is sobering, moving, and reveals so many qualities that it is worth quoting in full:
‘Unfortunately, HMP Chelmsford has had a high number of deaths over a period of 2 years. I am involved from the initial incident, right through to the end of the Inquest. I am the main point of contact for our staff involved, the PPO, Government Legal Department and the Coroner. I am fully aware of how difficult and harrowing attending Coroners Court is, so I not only ensure that the staff are aware of the process of attending Coroners Court, but also check on their welfare before, during and after the Inquest.
‘I have attended, in person, five Inquests so far and have seven more to go. I attend every Inquest, every day, to support the staff giving evidence and also ensure there is a senior member of staff from the Prison to answer any questions the Coroner or the family of the deceased may have. I have been there for our staff every step of the way, offering support both in person and by phone/email. I do this in working hours and also in my own time.
‘Although I do not have to attend Court every day, I feel it is important and respectful for a representative from the Prison to be there on a daily basis in a supportive capacity. This has given me the opportunity to speak to the family of the deceased, tell the family some heart-warming stories of my interactions with their loved ones (as I unfortunately knew all of the deceased) and also listen to their stories, look at family photos and try to understand the impact their loss has had on the families.
‘I hope that I show the caring and compassionate side of the Prison Service during this difficult time. It is tough, but I am glad I am the one there for the staff. I have been told, on many occasions, that I have been crucial in getting staff through this really difficult experience, so it is more than worth it to me. I would say it is unusual for one person to complete 12 Coroners courts in less than 2 years but I want to do it so I am there for my colleagues and that is why I will be there until the final one is completed.’