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

KIRSTY HUISH (HMP Peterborough)

KIRSTY HUISH (HMP Peterborough)

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COMMENDEE 2015-16: Kirsty earns a Commendation for her work as an Offender Supervisor at HMP Peterborough, and is described in her nomination, supported by a number of prisoners, as “exceptional”, “inspiring” and “a great role model”.

Kirsty HuishKirsty Huish is an Offender Supervisor at HMP Peterborough and is Commended for her remarkable work. Her initial nominator, Peterborough’s Head of Offender Management Emma Stuart, engagingly tries to get to the bottom of what makes Kirsty special:

“Kirsty Huish is an Offender Supervisor at HMP Peterborough, at least that’s what her name badge says. The true value of Kirsty however is something that is hard to write and is more importantly felt by the men and women whom she has guided to make choices that changed their lives for the better. The public won’t feel or know that Kirsty changed their life, as her tenacious work behind the scenes protecting the public has prevented harm from occurring in the first place. Kirsty conducts herself with tenacity, humility, honesty and energy. She is passionate in her quest to change lives and that passion flows from her in all her interactions. Her constant smile denotes her generous nature and the heartfelt belief she has in those individuals that ordinary people wouldn’t even try to reach.”

Emma gives a powerful example of one offender, ‘J’, “who found herself stuck in the cycle of crime and social exclusion. On first name terms with prison staff owing to the frequency of her custodial sentences, she sadly was renowned for challenging and disruptive behaviour. Often adjudicated, she failed to take responsibility for her own actions. Kirsty gained her trust and with that grew to understand that J was vulnerable following a life of physical abuse, periods in care and then caring for her father who was mentally ill. A victim of violence in her formative years she became a perpetrator of domestic violence. Her child was born in custody and taken into care, J’s lowest point. Kirsty supported J back on track and, recognising her vulnerability, arranged for her to be mentored by Spurgeons on release.”

(Spurgeons is delivering a groundbreaking project to support young female offenders and move them towards a better future. The project provides 15 to 24-year-old female offenders with a volunteer female mentor to support them prior to and after release from prison or youth offending institutions. The project is being funded by the Big Lottery Fund and works across England in partnership with HM Prison Service).

Emma describes how, en route to an approved hostel on the day of release, J “had a panic attack on the train and reached out to Kirsty who talked her through her fear and statements of ‘I want to come home’ on the phone. Kirsty got the Spurgeons Mentor to go onto the train to meet J, who ultimately went to the approved premises and is now doing well in the community.”

Emma relates another striking case: “Many potential victims have been saved by Kirsty from the harm that ‘L’ is capable of. A convicted drug dealer and a suspected paedophile, the police had no evidence to act on. Working behind the scenes, Kirsty was able to help the police gather evidence of his continuing grooming and exploitation of an underage girl. Arrested and subsequently convicted of sexual offences, justice was done and he is now a registered sex offender.”

Emma gives another example, of ‘S’, who was “addicted to crack, a sex worker and controlled by her violent partner. S failed to prevent him from harming her children. They went into care and she came into prison. Withdrawn and vulnerable she was slipping under the radar and still in a relationship with him. Kirsty gently built a relationship by listening until S opened up, moved forward and became ready to engage. S got help for her substance misuse and began to realise she was in an abusive relationship. Discovering she was pregnant at the start of her sentence she feared the worst, that her baby would be taken away.” With Kirsty’s support, “she was able to demonstrate that she had changed. Side by side they convinced social services that S could raise her child safely. S was released and now lives with her own mother as well as her baby. She is engaged in drug treatment and, using her new found confidence, referred herself to the Freedom course for victims of domestic abuse.”

(The Freedom Programme examines the roles played by attitudes and beliefs on the actions of abusive men and the responses of victims and survivors. The aim is to help them to make sense of and understand what has happened to them, instead of the whole experience just feeling like a horrible mess. The Freedom Programme also describes in detail how children are affected by being exposed to this kind of abuse and, very importantly, how their lives are improved when the abuse is removed.)

A final example offered by Emma is that of ‘D’, who came into custody “aggressive, self pitying and arrogantly convinced he did not need to change. The mother of his children was in intensive care following his brutal attack which his children witnessed. He was argumentative and dismissive of female professionals, so Kirsty dug in for the long haul. She met his challenges head on with sense and consistency until he understood that he was better working with her than against her. Kirsty took a chance and encouraged him to sign up for the ‘Stop the Hurt’ course, in which he was demeaning of the facilitators and disruptive until he was taken off. Kirsty worked behind the scenes to get past his behaviour and move him forward. He completed a Caring Dad’s course and became a Connections worker, in which he became a role model for others. He began ‘Stop the Hurt’ again in custody and successfully completed it on release. In his final session speech he thanked Kirsty for her support.”

(Stop the Hurt is a Peterborough Relationship Support programme providing “support for behaviour change through group work programmes. They specialise in programmes for male and female Domestic Violence and Domestic Abuse perpetrators. The Stop the Hurt programme is designed to increase understanding about what behaviours are abusive and help people who want to change to learn positive techniques for handling conflict. Our targeted approach also helps support partners who are victims of domestic abuse.”)

Emma concludes that “these are but a few examples of the many ways in which Kirsty undertakes her role to the highest standards of care on a daily basis. She represents hope in the hundreds of ways, big and small, in which she supports others and always follows through to the end with the people and the tasks that she has committed to.”

Butler Trust Local Champion Richard Thompson, Managing Chaplain at Peterborough, had this to say: “Kirsty is being nominated because she is an exceptional and inspiring Offender Supervisor in HMP Peterborough. This is a role that Kirsty takes very seriously and works exceptionally hard to undertake well. It would be remiss however not to also acknowledge the important role Kirsty plays as a Prison Custody Officer more generally. Kirsty will work in other parts of the prison when there is an operational need. She does this with confidence and compassion. Overall Kristy is a generous person who gives her time and attention to the people she is working with whether they are residents or her colleagues.”

Richard notes that “the examples listed in the nomination form demonstrate the commitment Kirsty displays to the people on her caseload. Put simply she makes people feel safe and provides an environment where they can get things done and progress”, adding that “if the boxes on the nomination form expanded we would be able to fill them tens of times over with example after example of Kirsty’s good work. This is borne out by the testimonials we have provided (we also ran out of space in this box!)” [NB With hundreds of nominations running to thousands of pages, the Trust has found a limit helpful for those charged with the shortlisting process!]

Richard gives another example of Kirsty supporting “one lady who will significantly harm herself and then hide the wounds. Only this week, at the time of writing, Kirsty noticed that the resident was pale and looking unwell, she took her to one side and got her to disclose that she had hurt herself and then immediately got her to healthcare for treatment. Kirsty can gain trust and notice vulnerabilities because she takes the time to get to know people in the first instance.”

As is the case with so many Butler Trust winners, Richard notes that “Kirsty does not seek acknowledgment or praise,” adding that “she simply gets on and delivers; however, she will seek support when she hits a brick wall and feels the progress of a resident is being thwarted. This is owing to her tenacity and commitment in enabling positive changes in others. Kirtsy is the type of person that you know will always say ‘yes’ if you were to ask for help. As much as she is an outstanding Offender Supervisor, she is an amazing colleague. Generous with her time and willing to help no matter the request, she’s the one you want in your corner. More so, she’ll be smiling throughout and so with Kirsty, difficult days feel better.”

He describes how Kirsty “clearly loves being a Prison Officer and is always smiling no matter which part of the prison she is working in. Kirsty holds her colleagues and her residents in high regard and will consistently go the extra mile. She will stay beyond her shift ending to ensure colleagues in reception are helping settling in new arrivals or she’ll make time to be at a resident’s final session from a programme so that they know their progress is valued.”

Richard provides a charming checklist of reasons by which, if you hadn’t met Kirsty before, she would stand out from the crowd:

“You know that you are quality assuring one of Kirsty’s case files because it is thorough and thoughtful. In supervision she is knowledgeable and passionate whilst seeking to continuously develop.

“You know that Kirsty is in the Activity Allocation meeting because there is energy in the room and she is the one who knows the most about the people on her case load and the one lobbying hard to make sure they are linked into the activities and interventions they need.

“You know that Kirsty is working in reception as there will be calmness and warmth whilst new and returning residents are welcomed and made to feel at ease.

“You know that Kirsty is in the Public Protection Meeting as she is working hard to find the balance that ensures the correct risk management plan is in place that protects the public and also allows the individual room to progress and move forward.

“You know Kirsty has been on shift as issues have been resolved and colleagues have been supported. Kirsty will raise issues she has observed in other areas as well as OMU as she cares that the environment and people are looked after appropriately.

“You know it’s Kirsty escorting a resident as they’ll be deep in conversation and her pen will be pushed through her ponytail in case she needs it to write down a question or note an issue to be sorted.

“You know Kirsty is your Offender Supervisor as you feel supported, you have information to help you make decisions, and when you choose to you can move forward.”

Others wanted to add their own testimonials, too. One colleague said “The work you do is inspiring and an excellent example for new Officers to aspire to” while an ex-offender ‘P’ wrote this in a ‘Thank You card’: “I couldn’t leave without sending you all my admiration for helping and believing in me and supporting me through all of my recall. The one thing that stands out about you is that you are genuine and can see right from wrong,” while another, ‘D’ said “I wanted to say a really big Thank You for the patience and support you have provided ‘B’ and myself this week. It is fantastic to work with someone as committed and clearly passionate about rehabilitation. You are an asset to this prison.”

Another post-release letter: “I can honestly say I am the happiest, strongest, most content and self aware I have been in my life. So I’m busy, busy, busy laying down all the foundations to my sunny future and I’m prepared to take whatever steps I need to get to where I want to be and its all going in the right direction and my hard work is all paying off, I’m so happy Kirsty.” Another ‘Thank You card’ said “I just wanted to say Thank You for believing in me and all the hard work you put into me getting a fresh start. Knowing that I have your support gives me faith in myself that I can finally achieve who I’m meant to be. I hit rock bottom and you… held out your hands and helped me back up and I can’t Thank You enough.”

Nick Leader, Peterborough’s Director, had this comment: “When I read this nomination I thought ‘Wow!’” and made an interesting point: “I do see Kirsty on a regular basis. She is committed, positive, a great role model and is clearly making a difference to those in our care. The nomination clearly outlines the added value of Kirsty and yet senior managers like myself sometimes fail to appreciate the type of work our offender supervisors carry out and the way it impacts on others. Seeing the nomination for Kirsty helped me appreciate the challenging but rewarding work done with some of our most damaged and needy offenders… Kirsty is clearly doing an ordinary job especially well.”

Kirsty had this to say: “When I was informed I had been nominated for this award and the reasons behind it I was surprised. I explained to my manager I was just doing my job.” (A remark made by many Butler Trust winners over the years.) “That’s not to say it wasn’t a pleasant surprise and I am grateful, it’s just I believe the majority of my successes come from the hard work and perseverance of the men and women I care for –  all I do is provide direction and encouragement.”

Describing her work in more detail, Kirsty explains that her case was “around 100 individuals of varying risk both male and female. I got to know each and every one by name. I knew their families through them, and heard about their lives up until prison. Sometimes it was hard to listen to as they had some awful experiences, but by allowing them to share and acknowledging the bad along with the good we took the first step to addressing their offending together. It wasn’t easy as many of the residents felt they had been let down by themselves, their loved ones, their community or society at large. Therefore I encouraged them to break their issues down into bite-sized pieces and tackle each trigger individually by taking responsibility and control. Together we would accomplish this by utilizing all the support that was available within the Prison estate as well as through the gate services. I guess the easiest way to evidence my enjoyment in my work would be by examples so within this I have included a few along with this document.”

“‘V’ was convicted of violence against his partner and his children witnessed it which led to his imprisonment for 2 years. When I first met V he was a very challenging individual as all he could see was the fact his partner had betrayed him and was just as guilty of the offence as they both drank, and alcohol was what had fuelled his offence. His statement was that as his children had not physically been in the room he could not see what the risk to them was. Suffice to say we did not see eye to eye at first, and every meeting we had was left by both of us feeling frustrated by the lack of understanding in the other. I persevered and to his credit he always attended his appointments. Eventually he agreed to attend the Stop the Hurt programme run by Relate which is designed to raise awareness of the impact and consequences of violence on their partner and the family as a whole. It was hard for him at first as he had a lot going on in and out of prison but he took to the programme and really embraced it. He was reduced to tears during it and shared the experience with me which enabled us to communicate in an open and honest way. He was released on Home Detention Curfew, but promised to continue to engage with the programme and invited me to attend one session in the community with him so I could see what he was achieving. The change in V was remarkable. Many reading this may have doubts as to the validity of change within people who come to prison, but when you witness it there is no denying that prison can be a powerful and positive experience. V is now in the community. He engages with probation, has stopped drinking and has been successful in applying for contact with his children and although he and has partner have separated we receive reports from probation and himself that they are engaging in a positive way for the children.”

Kirsty gave another example of reducing re-offending: “‘L’ is serving an indeterminate Public Protection (IPP) sentence, which means a life license, for the manslaughter of her partner. Her history included excessive domestic violence with her as the victim, reliance on drugs and alcohol and losing her children through her lifestyle and relationship choices prior to custody. L was self-isolating and did not feel that she deserved to be alive due to her offence. It was painful to watch her on the wing as she seemed so alone and when I tried to speak to her she was self-effacing. I had real concerns about her engagement.  I knew her from my time on her unit, and used that to build up a rapport with her. She was a hard worker and was always ready to help and listen to others in need but would never speak out for herself so, through supervision, we referred her to programmes such as Building Skills for Recovery to help tackle her substance misuse, and a Thinking Skills Programme to aid future choices and lifestyle management. She also attended a therapeutic course in HMP Foston Hall, which I had the pleasure of attending her review as her supervisor. I will always remember entering the review and L gave me a huge hug and thanked me for my support. But as I said to her that day, the biggest reward was seeing how well she looked.

“After all her hard work L is a changed woman. She could never change the past but she had accepted that to not embrace the future would be an even bigger offence. She is now awaiting her pre-tariff review which, should she be successful – and I have every belief that she will be – she will be able to progress to an open estate and thereby start rebuilding her ties with the community. She has already made huge leaps in this by rebuilding contact with her children – she’s now a grandmother and completing an Open University course in Sociology. She now works as a recovery rep to help support others, all of this done with the confidence of a women who has hope in her future.”

To reiterate part of Richard’s checklist, “You know Kirsty is your Offender Supervisor as you feel supported, you have information to help you make decisions, and when you choose to, you can move forward.”

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