Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2018-19: Michael is a Supervising Officer at HMP Grendon. He is Commended for “a lifetime contribution to the Prison Service,” and in particular for his pivotal role in the prison’s new Therapeutic Community Plus unit for prisoners with learning difficulties.
When Micky started work as a Prison Officer in 1997, he was posted to Grendon, 170 miles from his home in Liverpool. He commuted from his wife and young children for 12 months until he could relocate his family. Nonetheless, from the first day he walked into Grendon, Micky ‘knew the upheaval had been worth it’ and felt he had found ‘the best prison in the country’. More recently, Micky was part of a small core team running a completely new wing, TC Plus, for those with learning difficulties. [Learning difficulties is a complex and challenging issue addressed in The Butler Trust workshop on the Management and Care of Prisoners with Learning Difficulties, Custody and Community, held jointly with the Prison Reform Trust.]
Lamar*, the prisoner who made the Initial Nomination, says Micky ‘is well respected by residents and staff here at Grendon’, noting that ‘he takes great pleasure in his work. When he gets the chance to talk about his time here at TC+, you can see the pride and joy. In groups he throws questions at you that you’re not prepared for but it’s coming from a good place, which is taking us towards alteration. He never judged a single decision we made, he encouraged us when we had nothing to be encouraged about. We’re lucky to have Micky and he’s very much appreciated.’
Carole Roe, a Company Director & Board Member of ‘Friends of Grendon’ and Butler Trust Local Champion, says both prisoners and colleagues describe Micky as ‘a gentle giant’ who is ‘thought of warmly throughout the prison on account of his kind, gentle and patient disposition.’ TC Plus has been a great success, she reports, ‘with some of the most damaged individuals with low IQs being given the chance to be taken seriously and given therapy tailored to their level of understanding.’
Micky, adds Carole, ‘is another nominee who feels embarrassed and humbled by his nomination and was very emotional talking about it.’ She reports Micky saying:
‘I feel blessed to have spent my career in what I think is one of the most special places in the country, not just the Prison Service. I’ve seen so many success stories and it’s the men who choose to come here and undergo therapy that deserve the plaudits, not me. They’ve chosen to explore the darkest corners of their minds and have been prepared to put the work in to make a change. The fact that this can create safer communities by making men less likely to re-offend upon release, and that I have played a small part in that, makes me feel very proud. The prisoners here on the TC Plus wing have an IQ of 50-80 and can be overlooked in the mainstream system. The adapted therapy we have here really works and I’m grateful to have been part of it.’
Another colleague added ‘Micky just has a magic touch. He is an important role model to us all, but there’s only one Micky.’ One prisoner tells a story that captures this quality:
‘I’ve been in prison for 17 years but I struggle with confidence and I’ve been before the Parole Board before and couldn’t even make it to the end of the interview. Micky has worked with me in therapy and when my recent hearing came up, he said he’d come with me on his day off and sit at the back of the room. I’ll never be able to repay him for this kindness. I don’t have anyone in the world who would have done this for me. When I received that envelope saying I had got my Cat D I couldn’t believe it. I move to open conditions soon, then release after that. Micky has given me the best chance in life now, I know I can make it and live the best life I can. I own that man so much.’
Jamie Bennett, Grendon’s Governor, fills in the detail on the very specific nature of the work there, and what Micky brings to it:
‘For 30 years Micky has delivered therapy to men with personality disorders and who have experienced trauma and abuse. This is emotionally demanding work that requires a high degree of professional skill.
Micky is what is referred to in therapeutic communities as a ‘culture carrier’. That is, he embodies the values and practices of therapy and is a role model to colleagues and residents. He is patient and gentle in his approach, dealing calmly and sensitively with men who may be distressed, angry, or confused.
Micky has a positive impact on the men he works with. He builds up trust by spending time with the men, showing a genuine interest in them and investing something of his soul as well as his labour. What the men experience is a kind of parental love and care that has often been absent in their lives. This can be a powerful and healing experience. This approach rubs off on those around him, Micky sets a tone for every team he works in. His approach has a ripple effect, spreading goodness across the team.’
Jamie concludes, powerfully, ‘Micky is a shining example of therapeutic work… he puts his body and soul into his work. Those he works with, including me, not only admire Micky, we love him.’ To which Micky himself adds, movingly, ‘this has always been more than a job to me, I’ve met some fantastic people, both colleagues and prisoners, and I feel lucky and blessed to have spent so much of my life here.’
* Prisoners’ names have been anonymised.