Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEES 2018-19: Jon is an Officer and Recycling Instructor at HMP Maghaberry. He is Commended for transforming the prison’s approach to recycling, creating employment opportunities for prisoners, and making a valuable economic and environmental contribution.
Initial Nominator Keiran Magennis, a Governor and Unit Manager, describes how Jon, as lead officer in the Prisons Recycling Unit at HMP Maghaberry in Northern Ireland, has taken on prisoners many believed ‘had no chance of being rehabilitated and whose only goal in life was to disrupt the prison regime.’ With ‘enthusiasm and tenacity (not to mention resilience)’ he has delivered tangible improvements in their attitude and lifestyle, turning around the lives of many prisoners while offering ‘purposeful, constructive and rewarding activities.’ He adds that Jon ‘is a perfect example of what a modern day prison officer should be and an outstanding role model for all staff.’
The numbers are impressive, too. In just six months last year, recycling 11 tonnes of scrap metal, 8.6 tonnes of paper and cardboard, as well as 9.5 tonnes of plastics, led to savings on skip charges alone of around £11,000. Kieran says,
‘Jon typifies what our prison is all about. That is, a modern, forward thinking prison which has the offender at its core and uses a whole prison approach to better the lives of prisoners and their families whilst protecting the most vulnerable in society.’
[In relation to this, it’s worth noting that Maghaberry has indeed produced some impressive Butler Trust winners in recent years].
But it’s his work with offenders that ‘brings Jon into a league of his own’, says David Savage, the Butler Trust Local Champion and a Governor who heads up Residence and Prisoner Safety. He describes Jon taking on and helping transform many difficult prisoners, ‘including one who has progressed from disruptive to securing day release for paid employment in the community.’ His ‘vibrant personality and strong work ethic’ is reflected in his workforce, adds David, who recalls the Governor visiting on Christmas Day and finding the recycling team emptying bins and keeping the establishment clean. When asked if they did not want a day off, they responded, ‘We love this work – and promised Jon we’d keep the place clean.’
Jon has also been innovative in other ways, too. Prison industries now supply a range of goods made from recycled materials to be sold by a local charity, and the charity in turn uses profits to support prisoners struggling financially in prison. Tumble dryers and washing machines have become fire pits and bespoke planters, while money from recycling sales to outside companies goes into the prisoners’ amenities fund and so assists activities, televisions, special events and the upkeep of communal areas.
‘Jon is never seen around the prison without a smile or without a kind word or greeting to those he meets whether that be prisoner, staff, manager, governor or visitor’, adds David, and he has ‘certainly broken the mould of a prison officer’ that he was trained in almost 30 years ago. ‘He is a credit to the prison and the organisation but more importantly he is an extremely positive role model for staff and prisoners.’
A recent thank you from a prisoner, Michael*, described the recycling as ‘a great experience that has got me off the drugs and to where I am today. I couldn’t have done this without you.’ Another, from Peter* said “Thank you so much for helping me through my sentence and for putting me on the right path. I enjoyed working with you. I feel I can make something of myself now because of the training and experiences you gave me. Cheers Jon, you don’t know how much it is appreciated.’
The Governor, David Kennedy, calls Jon ‘an outstanding example of what a modern day prison officer should be and is an outstanding role model for both prisoners and staff alike.’
Jon himself describes growing the team from an initial 6 prisoners on the recycling team to over 30 men now, completing more than 800 hours of constructive activity per week, and with 57 prisoners a Diploma in Waste Management (an industry based recognised qualification). He adds, ‘The pride in these men when they got their certificate was heart-warming.’
Projected savings annually are over £40,000 per year, and the prison is well on its way to realising Jon’s ambition, and the ambition of the prisoners involved in recycling, to make the prison “waste neutral.”
Jon advised the team of his nomination and ‘to a man they are all delighted, but I have assured them that I do not view this as recognition for me, but as recognition for all offenders past and present who have worked so hard to make this a success, and who have taken the opportunities to better themselves.’
A striking letter – the first ever written in English by this foreign national prisoner, who was supported with his English by Jon and the recycling team – is particularly moving. He wrote to the Governor, and his letter had this to say (it’s reproduced exactly as written):
‘Johm Wood is my number one, he take care to me like his own son. No words can thanks them… My deeply deeply thanks for all the staff but especial Johm. Sorry for my poor english, I hope you understand!!!this is my first letter in emglish!! Johm and the other men have built a new man to face the future and be with my family…’
* Prisoners’ names have been anonymised.