Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2020-21: Jason Marsh, who has worked in the Prison Service for thirty years, and been a Physical Education Instructor at HMP Hatfield for most the last decade, is described as “an absolute credit to the service”, and is Commended for his seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm for creative initiatives that consistently deliver a high impact on the quality of life for both inmates and staff.
Mark Spence is Jason Marsh’s Line Manager at HMP Hatfield and the Initial Nominator, and says Jason “epitomises what HMP Hatfield is about – he is an absolute credit to the service.” He says Jason is “creative, forward thinking and never ever short of ideas. He puts a great deal of his own time in to making men look at alternatives to crime, whether it be developing music groups, sporting activities helping local communities, fundraising for local hospitals during COVID 19 or increasing self-belief and changing the lives of our men. Jason never looks for any acclaim or recognition, he just seamlessly moves on to the next challenge with buckets of enthusiasm.”
Mark adds that Jason “is a jovial character who has the respect of staff and prisoners; he not only delivers and provides sound health, life and fitness advice, he participates in all aspects of Hatfield life.” Mark details just a few examples of Jason in action, starting with the CALM London 10K Takeover. “Jason looked to push boundaries in order to combine gym activities with promoting positive living. Following correspondence with the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), Jason organised a 10K inter unit relay race for the men at Hatfield. A number of Prisons were involved in this. Hatfield was the only prison in the country where a member of staff and resident went to London to run the 10K race, representing CALM.”
Mark shares a comment from Anna Mullaney, CALM Product and Service Officer: “Jason went absolutely above and beyond to put on this event for CALM at short notice, managing the complexities of the prison environment brilliantly to run a 10k within HMP Hatfield in support of CALM. Fundraising was by no means the focus of this initiative for us, but Jason went out of his way to collect funds.” Anna adds that “by bringing a prisoner to the London 10k, he demonstrated that he could remove barriers and allow them to safely be a part of an event to raise awareness of the issue of suicide. He has been an absolute joy to work with for the entire CALM team, as an optimistic, driven and hard-working individual. It would be an absolute pleasure to collaborate with Jason again in the future.”
Mark then explains how Jason helped establish a prison band. “Jason heard a number of men were musical. It was apparent they had talent but they had nowhere to go to meet, play, and learn. He created a music room within the gym as a safe place to practice. The band has played at many events including wellbeing events, fundraising events and our Black History event. These occasions were met with a positive reaction and the band felt their self-esteem had been boosted enormously, saying that ‘Jason had given them confidence to push themselves in new situations they would never have previously done’”.
Jason has also set up a National Navigation Award Scheme, says Mark, “which took men out in the countryside for 4 days, learning new life skills. One prisoner on release sent in a photo of himself at the top of a mountain thanking him for all the skills he had learned on the course. Another on his first Home Leave took his wife hiking in the Peak District using his new acquired skills which contributed to a change in his offending behaviour.”
Jason also responded to the Covid lockdown with a socially distanced fun run for both staff and residents, “a great event that raised an exceptional £1000 for the local hospital.” As Mark says, “Jason always looks to turn a negative situation into to a positive one. We are fortunate to have such an asset at Hatfield as is the wider service. For me Jason’s spirit enthusiasm, caring approach and determination to improve lives stands out above all others I have known in over 30 years of service.”
Liz Whittaker, Head of Business Assurance at Hatfield and Local Butler Trust Champion, shares further testimonials from both prisoners and colleagues. One prisoner reports that “Mr Marsh is a top bloke, it was brilliant being out being out of the Prison for 4 days, it was a very challenging experience learning map reading and working as a team. It was a well organised course lead by Jason who talks to the Lads on the same level and really helps them.”
Meanwhile one of the prisoners who is a band member says “Jason has given me the confidence to try new skills, I’ve never played in front of a crowd before. I was really nervous as you don’t know how the lads might react, but Jase gave us the confidence to do it and I loved it. It was proper buzzing when others were singing along.”
People Hub Manager Sophie Kendrew describes how Jason actively ensured he played his role in assisting “during these challenging times”, adding that his “passion and enthusiasm naturally rubs off on others, the wellbeing day that he helps to organise now has an excellent reputation with both staff and men. That’s what makes him stands out – he doesn’t differentiate, he absolutely supports everyone.”
Liz adds that “everything Jason does has helping the men, reducing reoffending and decency at the core, whether it be learning new lifestyle skills that the men can develop, improving family ties or finding hobbies that have a positive impact for our men rather than turning to crime through boredom.” She says Jason “pushes the boundaries on how to achieve this, but he is rewarded in the sense that the men are evidently using the skills he has developed with them, for example when an ex-prisoner sent in the postcard of him up the mountain to the Governor to show how he had taken positive advice from Jason.”
She notes that Jason “gives the men a sense of hope and has a constant ‘can-do’ attitude, he embeds skills such as team work, perseverance and goal setting throughout everything that he does and delivers. Jason is able to seamlessly embed core and vital life skills into fun events that make real differences. Many are events that capture the men’s imagination in the first instance but also have a core learning point about changing lives in a positive manner. For some the prison band might be a bit of fun but, for others it has provided increases in self-esteem, confidence boosts, and being proud to show off a skill – and be proud of themselves.”
Liz concludes by saying “Jason is level headed and down to earth. I know no-one ever has a bad word to say about him and his drive and motivation to make things better for people rubs off on everyone he works with. His achievements speak for themselves.”
HMP Hatfield’s Governor, Michael Mills, offers further evidence of Jason’s exuberant enthusiasm, writing that “having taken up post as the Governor at HMP Hatfield last year I was immediately impressed by Jason’s enthusiasm and approach. He called in to see me within my first few hours with literally a million ideas as to how we could continue to build and deliver great things for our men, staff and communities. He still has not stopped knocking on the door with great new ideas which he then sees through to delivery with excellent results.” He concludes that “Jason is really at the heart of so many great things and outcomes here at Hatfield and for me he is absolutely worthy of recognition if at all possible. I absolutely support and commend this nomination.”
Jason himself shares a story about the naming of the prison band – no small thing for any band – which shows the affection of those he helped. It had originally been called Stud Wall, in honour of the lengthy process involved in partitioning part of the gym for storage and the band’s rehearsals. “It was just before they were due to perform at a Wellbeing event at Hatfield that they informed me they wanted to change the name of the band!!” writes Jason, his exclamation marks expressing some of the enthusiasm mentioned above.
“They told me they wanted to be called ‘Marshall Law’. They wanted this to thank me for the efforts I had gone to, for getting this music group off the ground. They explained the “Marsh” was for me and the “All” was them!! (The “Law” obviously spoke for itself!!). This was very thoughtful of them but I did like the original ‘Stud Wall’!! Eventually I backed down after being out voted and Hatfield’s band had a new name!! ‘Marshall Law’. (It’s unclear if this is also a clever nod to the famous Marshall speakers, too, which go up to 11).