Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
AWARD WINNER 2016-17: Geraldine receives an Award for her wide ranging and transformative contribution to HMP Full Sutton, which extends far beyond her role as Writer in Residence. She is described as “universally respected” and someone who “works tirelessly to enhance the lives of prisoners and staff”, while her Governor says “I can describe Full Sutton as a community because of people like Gerry”. [This Award is supported by Interserve.]
Talking about Geraldine Ryan’s work in terms of her job description, as a ‘writer-in-residence’ or ‘sessional worker’, doesn’t begin to do justice to the extraordinary list of activities she has pioneered at HMP Full Sutton – or their impact on people’s lives.
As her nominator, Custodial Manager Richard Preece notes, “it is well known that developing skills in the Arts teaches an alternative and more positive method of communication,” which in turn allows for “a more positive expression of negative frustrations and emotions. This assists in the reduction of violent reactions [and] a true breaking down of barriers with staff [and can] open up avenues of influence rarely seen on the landings.”
Geraldine’s work includes Arts Projects, Community Choirs, Chess Clubs and the Woodshed Guitar Project. The trust she develops “can be seen in the respect she is held in by the attendees at each group”, says Richard, adding that “Gerry leads this area with her dedication and ability to create these projects with minimal cost to the public purse but providing maximum positive results.”
Local Butler Trust Champion and People Hub Manager, Janice Yarham, notes how “Gerry develops projects which break down barriers between prisoners and staff. She is the glue that binds the strengthening relationships at Full Sutton. Universally respected and valued she has time for everyone and works tirelessly to enhance the lives of those living and working at Full Sutton.”
Here are just some of the (very) full list of her achievements, in Janice’s own words:
“Gerry currently delivers, amongst other things, ‘Sing4a Smile’ getting prisoners who are isolated on the wing more engaged as a group in partnership with our Anglican Chaplain Audrey Atkinson. She has organised engagement with the British Chess Federation, a showcase event and now a regular chess club. The chess club has brought people together but the focus on chess itself has developed thinking skills and concentration in a great many men.
“Gerry has brought Yoga to Full Sutton. She was instrumental in bringing the work of the Phoenix Trust to support a yoga project into the prison. Through her support and external contacts there is now yoga delivered every week to staff and prisoners. The value to those willing to engage has been outstanding, bringing mindfulness and focus to daily lives. Gerry has continued to support and develop the Full Sutton ‘Full On’ magazine, which is a Koestler Award winning publication, providing editorial oversight and guidance.
“She has worked with individual prisoners to write their own books; one example was a prisoner who has written a book to his child, with illustrations, to try and connect and explain what has happened in his life, again winning a Koestler Award.
“Gerry was instrumental in bringing about a book that is written purely for children visiting the prison. She oversaw its production and illustration. This is used as a tool through its characters to explain the visits entry procedures and how life is for the child’s family member at Full Sutton.
“She has collaborated with our librarians in the work of ‘Storybook Dads’ [where prisoners record themselves reading stories for their children], encouraged engagement in the Reading Ahead 6 book challenge and organises book groups.
“Gerry works in partnership with our Art tutor to encourage and support prisoners to submit work to the Koestler Trust resulting in an annual ‘haul’ of prizes and awards, building confidence and pride in many men.
“She has worked with the education team to deliver mentoring qualifications developing the network of peer support workers and active citizens. This list goes on and on.
“Finally, Gerry is nominated for her central role in the prisons Rehabilitative Culture Committee. She is a central member of the team and as such has helped create, facilitate and lead family visits that are now a monthly occurrence at Full Sutton, seeing participation from a wide range of prisoners and their children. The pictures and experience of the visits are moving. The impact of the visits on children and the family members in custody are beyond words.
“In partnership with wing manager Rick Preece, she has created the ‘Woodshed Project’. This project exhibits the real value that Gerry brings to our community. The project uses the guitar as a medium where staff with guitar playing skills teach prisoners how to play. The level of engagement, the relationships, skills and joint working that have come from this project are enormous.”
Janice adds, “The list of things that Gerry is involved in could go on and on. In essence she supports rehabilitation in its purest form,” and notes that she is “universally respected by prisoners, staff and managers.”
Several prisoners added their own testimonials. David* said, “We believe Miss Ryan deserves this award for the numerous roles she performs and the sheer number of activities organised, managed and monitored by her. From Yoga to book clubs, singing, drama and chess clubs. There is much for prisoners and staff to be grateful for.”
Ryan* added “For getting ‘Sing4a Smile’ off to a good start we believe that Gerry Ryan…. deserves recognition. But this puts aside the great work besides, from chess club, yoga, plays, prison magazines and helping change the prison-wide culture [which is] an important part of the soft power of rehabilitation, changing people by caring.” Meanwhile Terry* says, “she puts herself out to help other people” and “supports inmates in difficult times”.
Deputy Governor Steve Pearson and Rehabilitative Culture Chair confirmed that Gerry “has been involved or led so many individual projects I have lost count. I value her as, clearly, do staff and prisoners.”
Full Sutton’s Governor Ed Cornmell is also fulsome in his praise; describing Gerry’s contribution as “outstanding”, he goes on, “She stands out as a person who is universally valued and as someone who has made a difference to individuals as well as the culture and lives of all at Full Sutton…She has a caring and considerate approach but steely determination to deliver. I can describe Full Sutton prison as a community because of the work that Gerry has put in over the years.”
Gerry herself points out that because Full Sutton holds mainly long and life sentenced prisoners, they “can sometimes be forgotten when it comes to a focus on resettlement.” She describes her focus as being on “settlement – helping people to lead fulfilling and valuable lives in prison while still feeling part of the outside world.”
As Ed concludes, in a simple but powerful remark, “She is the spirit of humanity.”