Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2019-20: Mark is a Prison Officer at HMP/YOI East Sutton Park. He receives a Commendation for being “an outstanding Officer” who “is invariably willing to go the extra mile” on behalf of the women in his care.
Mark is a Prison Officer at HMP & YOI East Sutton Park, which houses women offenders. Mark is described as someone who “very evidently loves his work, appears to be perpetually cheerful and is invariably willing to go the extra mile”, and his profound impact on the women in his care is reflected in their own moving testimonials.
Initial nominator and East Sutton Park’s Head of Business Assurance, Ian Hird, calls Mark “quite simply an outstanding Prison Officer.” Ian says that “it comes as no surprise to those of us who are lucky enough to work with him that in the last year he has received several commendations (including one for being part of a team who rescued a 500kg horse trapped between the bars of a gate – four staff had to physically support and calm it for an hour until the fire service arrived with lifting and cutting equipment).”
Ian explains that “as in the male estate, many female offenders have themselves been victims of very serious crimes and abuse. Mark has been able to demonstrate genuine empathy with some extremely damaged individuals and he always seems to be able to make the time to listen to them.”
Ian adds that “Mark sets the standard for personal officer work. He completely understands the importance of the interpersonal and social aspects of the work as well as problem resolution. Mark can thereby engender trust and support even where outcomes either disappoint or challenge residents. He is non-judgemental, generous with his time and takes a sincere and genuine interest in his designated charges and their progress through custody. There appears to be a real unanimity amongst his designated residents that they are very lucky to have him as a personal officer.” The nomination includes a number of poignant testimonials from women offenders:
“He is always there when I need him. He has taught me coping strategies.” (JH)
“Anytime you approach him, even if he is going home he will always help. I had never previously been able to talk to men. He is professional, respectful and kind. I will always remember him.” (JK)
“He is really helpful. Anything I need I go to him. I have problems with my older children, the twelve year old girl is disabled. He is always asking about her. My English is not too good and if I am doing an application form he has time to help me and sort it. He gives advice and refers me to the right people if he does not know. He is helpful, good and kind. I really like Mark.” (JS1)
“He is a good personal officer. My son is in another jail and he goes out of his way to arrange inter prison phone calls. He takes an interest in him. He is easy to talk to. I am a negative and anxious person. He knows that and brings me back down. The minute he sees me he can tell if I am anxious about something and he will talk to me.” (JS2)
Ian details a particular case, from 2018, when Mark was appointed personal officer to a young woman whose offence had been against members of her own family. “She had been entrusted with her parents’ financial affairs whilst they pursued their dream of travelling overseas for four years. On their return they discovered their daughter had spent their entire life savings (a six-figure sum) and after an acrimonious and traumatic criminal investigation and trial they cut off all contact with her. At her very lowest ebb she turned to Mark who patiently managed over time to re-open communications between daughter and parents.”
He explains that Mark “initiated and facilitated face to face meetings which at first were not easy or comfortable for those involved but Mark persuaded the participants to persevere. By the time she left custody, the young woman had a highly responsible job assessing qualifications for a national skills and education provider which she retained on release. This young lady wrote to the Governor on discharge in 2018 crediting Mark with repairing the relationship with her family and with developing her as a person – “Something as a family we will always be grateful for.”
Butler Trust Local Champion and East Sutton Park’s Head of Residence and Services, Linsey Arnold, knows Mark well, having worked with him in three Establishments, and says Mark “is outstanding in his work. He spends time and effort with his personal Residents to get the best out of them and for them to see their own potential.” She adds that:
“Even in the most stressful and challenging environments I have seen how Mark holds the respect and admiration of men and women in custody because he cares and listens. He is the perfect role model for the women at East Sutton Park; many of whom have suffered abuse and violence from men historically. He is always smiling and has a genuine welcoming demeanour which is infectious… I can quite honestly say, he is one of the best examples of what a prison officer should be.”
She adds that Mark “is trustworthy and dependable and while other members of staff are too, he is the person the Residents gravitate to in the absence of their own Personal Officers.” Mark is also “popular amongst his peers, goes that extra distance to help them, even in his own time”, says Linsey. “He is cheeky and funny and cheerful despite his own life experiences and quite simply, he will never let anyone down.”
Governing Governor Natasha Wilson has only worked with Mark for a short period of time, but says:
“I immediately saw the positive impact he has had and continues to have on our residents’ lives. Every day when he comes into work, he makes a difference and ‘changes lives.’ Mark has forged valuable relationships with the women and has helped them to trust again. He is an outstanding officer who speaks to the women in a manner in which they can identify. He will always help them, however provides them with appropriate challenge and feedback. He is fantastic at building their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.”
She adds that “I honestly believe that Mark has made a really significant difference to a number of women in our care, and has played a role in their rehabilitation prior to their release. He provides personal support to individuals, whether or not he is their nominated officer. They know that he will always be there for them and will give them and honest opinion in order to ensure that they gain everything that they can out of their time at East Sutton Park.”
Mark himself describes how he found that, after over 20 years working with a wide variety of prisoners in Her Majesty’s Prisons in the male estate, he found the transition to working with females “refreshing and rewarding but very challenging. I found the women in our care to be in general more grateful for the support I could offer but their circumstances often a lot more complex. Factors that many of us take for granted like the welfare of our children and the family unit are all under threat when one of our residents receives a custodial sentence. I was also surprised at just how many of the women in our care were reluctant to disclose domestic abuse either recent or historic. As such I have always attempted to build good professional relations in an attempt to be a positive role model, offering encouragement, support and advice whenever possible.”
He concludes with a generous but accurate remark about Prison Officers in general:
“I am always aware that many of the women in our care find the prospect of a prison sentence extremely scary and for some it is their first time in prison with many separated from their children for the very first time in their lives. I try to never forget the need to make time for them even when the pressure of work makes it difficult. Often it is just the simple listening skills that we all have that makes the difference to someone’s life and I believe that as Prison Officers we are very good at this.”
With thanks to HMP & YOI East Sutton Park, especially initial nominator and Head of Business Assurance Ian Hird, Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Residence and Services Linsey Arnold, offenders, offenders JS, JK, JS1 and JS2, and Governing Governor Natasha Wilson, for their contributions.