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

EVE BROTZEL (HMP & YOI Pentonville)

EVE BROTZEL (HMP & YOI Pentonville)

COMMENDEE 2021-22: Eve Brotzel is a Speech and Language Therapist working with men at HMP Pentonville who have autism, learning disabilities, brain injury, and communication difficulties. “Eve injects hope into Pentonville every day,” says Governor Ian Blakeman. She improves vulnerable lives – and those of staff, too, through her commitment to better understanding. Dr Natasha Sarkissian says: “Eve is magic, except the results she helps us to achieve aren’t magic – they’re the result of hard work and dedication helping some of the most vulnerable prisoners we have in our care to navigate an extremely challenging system, one that often forgets about some of the most troubled young individuals who have been failed by numerous systems already.” Eve is now helping spearhead a new Neurodevelopmental Disorder Unit there, too. “Pentonville,” says its Governor, “would be a much better place if we had more like her.”

‘Eve is magic’

The hope Eve injects is desperately needed. Over a third of prisoners have a learning disability or difficulty. Tackling that fact may be the next great frontier for prisons. (A Butler Trust workshop on the topic, with some further links, can be found here). Isolated good practice exists, says Natasha, but a lot more needs doing at all levels. This is a group that’s often bullied, self-harming, segregated, restrained, and facing mental health issues and risks. “Eve is keen to change this.”

Meanwhile, Eve’s work is helping staff feel more confident in their skills, too, and ultimately that means “the men in their care receive a more tailored, compassionate and informed service.” Natasha concludes by saying Eve has “a huge positive impact” in improving mental wellbeing, reducing self-harm – and letting men take part in work, education, and accessing wider mental health services.

Colleague Varinder Panesar calls Eve “exceptionally supportive” and says she has “a sensitive, trauma-informed, and compassionate way with the men and the systems around them.” Her clients, too, have good things to report, saying they have been “treated good and with kindness” and “felt listened to.” They rate her care as “very good” – and enjoy working with her, too.

Senior Officer Ash Cully says: “Eve’s work is invaluable, and she engages prisoners in a way that uniformed staff just sometimes cannot do. She is kind, diligent and always ready to help or take on the next challenging prisoner. Eve provides that little bit of magic that can dramatically improve our engagement with prisoners who would otherwise fall through the cracks.”

Another officer notes Eve is helping “some of Pentonville’s most difficult prisoners” to develop their communication skills, and does so while always calm, with “immeasurable patience”, and a manner that helps to “centre prisoners’ attention”.

 One man’s mother added a moving testimonial:

“I cannot thank Eve enough for helping my son through the traumatic death of his brother. She helped him to express his grief and was able to obtain information that other staff could not. She helped him regain his sense of identity and went out of her way to help his transition and improve his continuity of care. She is amazing.”

Colleague Catherine Barratt also calls Eve “amazing”, adding that she’s “kind, friendly and supportive to her co-workers and officers, and recognises when staff wellbeing might be suffering.” Her “infectious enthusiasm”, says the Governor, “rubs off on others, especially the prisoners.” Meanwhile he admires her instrumental role helping design a new unit –and is very much looking forward to seeing her “firmly stamp her mark on it.”

Eve explains that her work varies enormously, from a basic understanding of the regime (what is ‘kit’, ‘association’, a ‘pin’), through coping and navigating social expectations (“don’t ask too many questions in the queue waiting for the gym”), and on to helping understand communication needs – and what to do about them (“don’t pretend you have understood, ask questions, persevere!”)

Her work with officers is, she says, about helping them understand that what may appear to be rude or deliberately disobedient could really mean that these vulnerable men simply haven’t understood something. In a similar vein she points out that many autistic men in prison “simply can’t cope with the stress of having social interaction without breaks when sharing a cell and might have an extreme meltdown in coping with this.”

Clearly excited by the new unit she is helping colleagues plan, she hopes it will offer “a sensory room, reflective practice, regular staff training, communication passports and an accessible environment!” The aim: better access for the men “and less extreme distress and potential conflict and violence.”

She gives “a big shout out to the many staff in Pentonville working with real dedication and compassion to support the very complex men in our prison.” Yet she also recognises that she’s “very fortunate to be in a helping role”, and not having to deal with conflict and enforce rules and discipline as officers do – so she ends by saying “I am very grateful for all the teamworking!”

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