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

JEFFREY BENNETT (HMP Garth)

JEFFREY BENNETT (HMP Garth)

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COMMENDEE 2015-16: Jeffrey receives a Commendation for his work as a Braille Instructor at HMP Garth, over more than a decade, for which he has earned acclaim both nationally and internationally.

Jeffrey BennettJeffrey Bennett has worked as a Specialist Instructor in Braille at HMP Garth for over a decade, and receives his Commendation for his outstanding work, which has earned acclaim nationally and around the world.

His nominator and line manager Angela Preedy, explains that Jeff “takes great pride in the work produced in his workshop. He consistently provides high quality instruction to all his learners and always looks for ways to improve the learning experience. He has, on average 12 learners, all with differing ability levels and he is able to pitch his instruction to suit each one.”

Angela praises Jeff’s ability to “encourage the men to take ownership of the project they are working on and to assist others in the group”, adding that “Jeff has forged excellent relationships with customers and ensures that the quality of work and the reputation of the Braille unit is maintained by proof reading all documents prior to despatch. This is very time consuming and in order to do it, Jeff completes a lot of it in his own time in the evening and at weekends.”

She reports that Jeff also supports Galloway’s Society for the Blind by delivering Braille and IT training to their staff and to local blind people at the charity’s premises. “He constantly promotes the unit and is regarded as a leading advocate of Braille among his peers,” she says. “Offenders working in the unit find the work interesting and challenging, but at the same time very rewarding, knowing that they are giving something back to the community and helping people less fortunate. Learning Braille is a challenging task and takes a high degree of commitment from each individual to succeed; this commitment is evident when talking to offenders working in the Braille unit.”

Angela adds that “Jeff encourages potential customers to attend the unit to find out more about the service offered and he asks the prisoners to explain what they do to them. This provides the men with the opportunity to promote their work and to engage with other people. Jeff has also arranged for representatives of organisations who have benefitted from the Unit’s work to attend in person to pass on their thanks and, in some cases, present certificates to the men.”

Such visible recognition for prisoners that their work is meaningful and appreciated in turn increases their self esteem. “There are very few absences recorded on Braille’s attendance sheet as the men enjoy learning and producing high quality documents,” says Angela. “This is in no small part due to Jeff’s instruction and encouragement. This is further evidenced by the fact that most of the men choose to stay in the Braille unit following completion of the course and continue to produce documents for various organisations and several individuals.”

Jeff is “instrumental in promoting the good and diverse work that prisoners produce to help people in the local community and worldwide”, and as a result of his close partnership with Galloway’s, a local charity which supports blind and deaf people based within 10 miles of the prison, “Garth now produces 95% of their Braille materials.”

“Jeff has also forged strong links with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), which now supports the Braille unit by providing advice, updates, marking final exams free of charge and providing Braille course certificates”, explains Angela, and he “has also played a role in sourcing additional commercial work from the RNIB to provide a variety of tasks to continuously challenge his learners and generate income for the prison. The Braille unit, through Jeff, has been involved in projects to help people in the local community, including exhibiting the range of Braille/large print work at local festivals along with demonstrations of how Braille is produced on computers.”

The Braille Unit’s services have been extended “to schools, Universities, charities and individuals who commission books, leaflets, knitting patterns and an array of documents to be transcribed. A talking book service is also offered to allow different types of documents to be converted from a word file into an audio version. He has also developed a strong relationship with overseas charities including Blindaid for Africa. Much needed books and documents have been transcribed into large print and Braille to help with the education of visually impaired children in Malawi and Zimbabwe. An example of this is a History Book which contained over 2000 pages of Braille bound into 19 Braille volumes. Jeff was also involved in offering advice and support to the charity which resulted in a braille production unit being set up in Malawi.”

The Butler Trust Local Champion, Jan Haydock, Head of Corporate Services at Garth, hails Jeff’s “outstanding work with offenders, both teaching Braille, and for the vast amount of work produced for the community, at home and worldwide.” As well as supporting numerous charities and generating income from significant projects, Jan explains that for the offenders, “this challenging and meaningful work provides them with the opportunity to give something back to the community and help with our vision to build a rehabilitative environment.”

Jan adds that “Jeff is held in exceptionally high regard by peers, managers, offenders, customers and partners for his tireless work and enthusiasm. He is regularly nominated for local awards, and Prison Officer of the Year competitions,” noting Jeff’s outstanding “pride and professionalism in his work and pupils, and his encouragement and support to his learners.” Jeff has a high regard for the Koestler Awards, “and year after year, his learners consistently achieve all levels of the award. During 2014, Jeff’s learners were awarded a Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum Award.”

As Jan says, “the testimonials show [that] Jeff stands out from the crowd due to his prompt response to requests for help, his selfless determination to improve the lives of others, and his total commitment to his work, far beyond the actual workplace.”

Sister Catherine Jackson OP MBE of Harare in Zimbabwe offers this moving testimonial to the excellence – and importance – of Jeff’s work: “I run the main Braille producing organisation in Zimbabwe. I am the only one able to produce Maths, and I fell ill. I know Jeff Bennett through a friend and asked if he could help, since it was clear we could never reach the deadline set by Unicef, nor have the books ready for the children. Not only did Jeff readily agree, but he did it so well and quickly, we were all utterly amazed. Two of our Zimbabwean universities asked us to partner them in Special Education, and I was happy to agree knowing that I had support from Jeff and the Braille Unit. It is SO important in this country where the economy has collapsed and the first children to be pulled out of school are the blind. So long as we can ensure we can supply books, we can support Special Education in Zimbabwe in a way that the government is unable to do, and our children have a chance. Without this help, they would simply end up as beggars on the streets. I would really like to congratulate Garth for running such a worthwhile unit. It has given hope and life to so many here who otherwise would certainly have fallen by the wayside.” The nomination adds, simply but tellingly, that “many letters were received from the children.”

Steve Lawrence, Governor of HMP Garth added these remarks to Sister Catherine’s testimonial: “Jeff, this is a very clear reminder about the fantastic work that is done in prisons every day. I feel proud to be associated in some small part, with this uplifting email. I would imagine that this must make the work of your Braille Unit very rewarding. We rarely get positive feedback like this. Well done and keep up the good work.”

Dr Sally French, the author of a book transcribed by Jeff’s Braille Unit, wrote that she “was determined that the people who contributed to the book, and all other visually impaired people, would have full access to it as it relates to their own unique history. This presented an insurmountable problem, as the project attracted no funding. I am therefore indebted to Jeff Bennett and his excellent team who agreed to transcribe the book into Braille without charge.”

Governor Steve Lawrence adds that “the Braille work carried out under the leadership and supervision of Jeff Bennett is recognized internationally as outstanding…. Jeff coaches prisoners who in turn produce a specialised and high quality product making a very significant contribution to the community in the UK and across the wider world.”

Steve notes that in addition to the Braille Unit’s work for the RNIB and Galloway’s Society for the Blind, “Jeff’s work is also helping Blindaid for Africa, therefore helping with the education of visually impaired children in Malawi and Zimbabwe”, concluding “Jeff’s work is in my opinion extraordinary.”

Jeff says the ethos behind the unit including “encouraging offenders to look further than themselves; helping those less fortunate, giving offenders the chance to put something back into the community and help those in need around the world.” He notes “the high quality of braille work produced and the reputation the unit has within the braille community” and how it “produces benefits and enhances the quality of life for visually impaired children and adults, so there are added benefits for all concerned.” He goes on to emphasise that “as well as actually learning to transcribe Braille, which in itself is a life skill, my workshop also has a role to play in teaching and developing self-confidence, team-work and communication skills, all necessary things if rehabilitation is to take place.”

Jeff reckons he spends around eight hours a week working at home, “proof reading books and preparing training material to keep the unit running smoothly. For many years I used my home internet to source work for the unit, keeping in regular touch with customers and charities.” He explains that “the services offered by my unit extends to schools, universities, charities and individuals who commission books, leaflets, knitting patterns and an array of different types of document to be transcribed into Braille and Large print. From initial opening of the unit with no customers, I have built up a large and diverse range of customers, many customers have regular work like magazines and articles transcribed in Braille or MOON code. The customer base has expanded over the years and work is now provided to schools and universities, country and world-wide. There have been instances where education books have been commissioned by individuals from India. The unit also undertakes paid work from Businesses and Education Authorities.”

Keen to encourage “a rehabilitative culture, treating prisoners with respect, demonstrating a pro-social environment”, Jeff says he addresses “prisoners in my care by their first name which contributes and encourages a respectful learning environment. I support prisoners in their learning on a one-to-one basis, and although this is time consuming, I find it is the most effective teaching method. I treat the prisoners courteously at all times and build up professional working relationships with each of them in my care.”

Jeff describes some of the Unit’s current work for charities: “providing 200 children’s books to ClearVision; English and maths books for Blindaid Africa for Malawi; transcribing four maths books for Sister Kate, and a series of maths books [which] will form the school education curriculum for basic learning to ‘O’ Level in Zimbabwe.”

Jeff is currently in talks with RNIB to develop their relationship, secure work, and is exploring the interesting possibility of offenders upon release “gaining work at home transcribing books.” Finally, and above all, as Jeff says, this work is “life changing for all visually impaired people concerned.”

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