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COMMENDEE 2015-16: Fatima, an Officer & Therapeutic Community Specialist at HMP Grendon, is Commended after being nominated by five prisoners for the dedication and caring approach she demonstrates in her role.

Fatima BoukiliFatima Boukili, an Officer & Therapeutic Community Specialist at HMP Grendon, was nominated, remarkably, by five prisoners – each independently of the other – and their own words speak eloquently to her outstanding work:

Abdullah’s* nomination said “I would like to nominate her for her outstanding dedication to her job. She goes the extra mile to help everyone on B Wing. For me personally coming from a professional field, I commend her professionalism and her character of supporting me in my struggles. She has never turned anyone away who requires her assistance in any way. In her difficult, challenging role she always comes out on top as one of the best officers in HMP Grendon. In my opinion she does her job extraordinarily well and to a very high standard. I do feel she really does deserve this award. I don’t think there is anyone on B Wing that would argue against her being nominated for this award.”

Jim added that “Fatima goes out of her way for all the prisoners on the wing, you don’t get many prison staff like her. She’s always got a smile on her face and makes the wing a decent place to live. If you ever need owt doing she does it in a flash. She’s my personal officer but she may as well be the full wing’s personal officer. Top officer.”

Ali, meanwhile, praised Fatima for “her endless positive dedication to her job to any inmate, regardless of background, offence etc. Ms Boukili is commended for her hard work and professionalism by the majority of inmates. Ms Boukili has always supported, backed and helped me endlessly without hesitation. Great work!”

Kevin wrote that “my reason for nominating Fatima Boukili for the Butler Trust Award is she is very caring and supportive. She is very dedicated to her job and always motivates me and others to be the best that we can be,” noting her “hard working, honest and selfless nature.”

Her fifth nominator, Hassan, said “she is very supportive to all members of the community. Also she has a very positive attitude all the time.”

Butler Trust Local Champion Carole Roe, is a Company director and a Friends of Grendon volunteer, and provides more detail: “Fatima arrived at Grendon in 2009, new to the prison service, and is the only female Muslim member of staff in the prison. In addition to her general duties as an officer on B Wing, she is able to answer questions on matters of religion, both to staff and to Muslim prisoners and non-Muslim prisoners who have questions themselves. She regularly consults her own Imam and reports back if there is something she cannot answer.”

In recent years, Fatima has both researched and organised a celebratory meal for the Festival of Eid (which marks the end of Ramadan), which has involved securing charitable donations of special foods. Carole says “This is a very popular event within the prison, which means a lot to practicing Muslim prisoners. In addition, each Muslim prisoners is allowed to invite a guest. This means that the festival includes guests of different faiths and those with none. It is the inclusiveness that makes it exceptional.”

Carole cites Fatima’s own words: “I have time for everyone, and I absolutely love what I do. I’m a great believer in taking responsibility and getting things done. If you don’t immediately sort a problem it will still be there, and that becomes a problem for us all.”

When Fatima joined the prison service in 2009, on a sex offenders’ wing at Grendon, someone apparently told her “you’re always smiling, and that won’t last long. This job will change that”, yet, as Carole notes, “Fatima still has a permanent smile and that is commented upon by most staff and prisoners who talk about her.”

Carole adds that Fatima’s “dedication, caring nature, gentle demeanor and empathy with the prisoners is clear to see, and it’s worthy of note that she has been nominated by five prisoners, none of whom knew about the other nominations. She also regularly receives letters from ex-prisoners. Fatima has a great rapport with many prisoner’s families, and can often be seen sitting and chatting with them on visit days. Many prisoners comment on how she has helped them build bridges with family members and she has had a big impact on ‘visit with a difference’ days, many of which she has been instrumental in organising.” Carole again cites Fatima’s own words: “I like to roam around, and interact, and the prisoners say this helps them on visit days, which some can find difficult. We can often bring some of these conversations and issues back into our therapy groups.”

One colleague says “Fatima is such a gentle, calming influence on the wing and on all around her. I’ve never seen her get angry or upset and she always has a smile on her face. She puts herself forward for anything that needs to be done, and takes on challenges way beyond her grade. She’s so dependable and a brilliant colleague”, while another adds that “Fatima is the most helpful person I’ve ever worked with. She even takes on the most thankless of tasks with a smile. She has done an amazing job with the Eid Dinner and is an invaluable source of information on Muslim culture.”

Carole says “it is clear the impact that Fatima has had on the B Wing prisoners, with one saying ‘Fatima is so calm and so calming and is a great facilitator in groups, especially if things get heated. On day I was in a bad place and I shouted at her and felt so bad… nobody ever shouts at Fatima! I’ve been in prison 11 years and never met an officer like her.’

Another prisoner added “I don’t know how Fatima manages to get people to open up to her, yet she never crosses boundaries. She has helped me a lot with building family bridges, and all my family think the world of her.”

Clearly “an exceptional member of the Grendon team,” Fatima has “made a big impact on prisoner’s lives and that of their families, which is demonstrated by the number of letters she receives from former inmates.”

Governor Jamie Bennett notes that Fatima’s work “is complex and demanding” and “requires emotional investment and resilience. The nomination clearly demonstrates that Fatima is a talented officer who is fully committed to therapeutic work and successfully engages men in this.” He goes on to add that “She also has had a much wider impact upon the establishment in two ways. The first is that she has been ground-breaking by becoming the first female Muslim officer at Grendon. She has used this as an opportunity to promote understanding of Islam and community cohesion. She does this in a myriad of everyday ways, but in particular through the annual Eid-al-Fitr festival. At this, Muslim prisoners mark the end of Ramadan. Each prisoner is also able to invite a guest, so that it is shared with people of other faiths. This has helped to break down barriers and build understanding. The second way that Fatima has a wider impact is by sponsoring and supporting prisoner activities.”

Fatima says “Our main aim here at Grendon is to help the men find out more about experiences, thoughts and feelings behind what they do in everyday situations, but we also try to find out more about how they came to offend and how they can avoid offending in the future. We provide an opportunity for the men to try out different ways of dealing with frustrations and problems of day to day living and to gain skills and strategies that help them deal better with difficult emotions. We help the men to look at the way they relate to others and look at developing more positive relationships.”

She explains that “because of our high level of interaction with the men, you find yourself engaging in Therapy throughout the day. I love my job here and it gives me great satisfaction to see the men going through their own journeys from when they first arrive on the wing, through until they complete their Therapy and have a better understanding of themselves. The men that choose to come here have already taken that first step to make the changes in their lives to stop them re-offending and if I can take the time to talk with the men and offer guidance and support when they are experiencing difficulties, then it shows them that I care and care is something that these men have not experienced in their lives.”

Fatima goes on to point out that “The men that we work with have not had normal upbringings, many have been physically or sexually abused as children and find it really hard to trust people. They are normally fueled with anger, and anger seems to be the only emotion that they are comfortable in expressing. When the men first come on to the wing I start to interact and build relationships up with them almost immediately. I make sure they have everything that they need and if they ask me to sort anything out for them, I am proactive and get things done. If I notice that they are troubled or struggling I will approach them and engage with them and encourage them to explore their issues further on the group; by doing this and showing care, the men learn to trust and open up more and start building relationships. On visits I would go and meet their families and engage with them and this enables me to learn more about the men and their family relationships; in turn, this helps their families understand them and their difficulties and what they are trying to do here at Grendon.”

Fatima gives an example of her approach in practice: “I was recently made aware that one of our prisoners had lost their mother and he was allowed to go and pay his respects at the Chapel of Rest, but there was not an officer from our wing available to escort him on the day. I had no hesitation in cancelling my annual leave and putting myself forward to take him on the day. I did this because it felt like the right thing to do, because I knew that I could support him, and because of our interaction he would feel comfortable enough to show his true emotions in front of me and therefore be able to start his grieving process.”

She notes that she “found completing this form difficult as I struggle to talk about me, for me it just feels so wrong and I believe that this does have something to do with my Islamic faith of being humble and modest as a practicing Muslim.” Like so many Butler Trust winners, she says “I genuinely feel that I merely do my job. However I do feel that I am a role model for these men and if I can make a difference in their lives to stop them re-offending then I am proud to be a part of that.”

She adds that “By taking time to speak with the men in my care in a reasonable and patient manner, I believe that I am enabling them to think about consequences and in doing so I believe I am giving them a positive role model which will aid to protect the public.  I am non-judgmental and the men know they can come to me with any problem, issue and I will strive to reason with them and help them see a way through the current situation that may be troubling them.”

Looking ahead, Fatima would like “to see more promotion in regards to therapeutic work as I feel a lot of prisoners in other establishments are not aware of the opportunity to make real changes in their lives.”

[* All prisoner names have been changed to protect their identity.]

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