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

NIGEL HOLMES (HMP Kirklevington Grange)

NIGEL HOLMES (HMP Kirklevington Grange)

Nigel Holmes

COMMENDEE 2022-23: Described by the prisoner who nominated him as “the most caring Officer I’ve had the privilege to meet”, and widely respected by both prisoners and his peers, Prison Officer Nigel is Commended for the unwavering kindness and support he offers the men throughout HMP Kirklevington Grange.

Nigel’s initial nomination came from a Prisoner and veteran, Greg, and ranks as one of the single most powerful testimonies anyone could wish for. A small masterpiece of concisely lucid and powerfully moving writing, the alternating rhythm of using ‘Officer Holmes’ and ‘Nigel’ also rather brilliantly captures a fundamental truth of the life of a Prison Officer: the multiple demands made by the official role alongside the human who inhabits them.

We have transcribed Greg’s work from the original handwriting verbatim, and here it is in full:

‘Officer Holmes goes the extra mile, no matter the problem or issue, Nigel is always approachable, understanding, helpful and a great listener. He has assumed the role of my personal officer after I had little communication with the previous one. He has been a shoulder to cry on and a fantastic source of advice.

As a veteran suffering from PTSD I’ve found prison to be a lonely challenging environment. Officer Holmes has gone out of his way to relieve these feelings. Nigel has helped me as I’ve gone through therapy from my PTSD, he has listened to my nightmares, read my memories when I have wrote them and always been a source of support. He has provided me advice and guidance when I’ve had to deal with an adoption application for my son. He took the time to find me every day for weeks to check on my wellbeing as well as supporting me through it.

Nigel cares about the people in his charge, he treats me as a person, as Greg – not a number, not a prisoner but as a human being. He is the most non-judgmental caring officer I’ve had the privilege to meet on my sentence. He has helped me to realise that positive changes and positive mindset will keep me on the right path.’

As Butler Trust Local Champion and Learning, Skills & Employment Manager Karen Ayton says, once a nomination for Nigel like that arrived, ‘the rest of the supporting evidence was easy to find in records of performance recognition nominations and testimonials from prisoners and staff.’ His dedication to delivering ‘the best he can’ with ‘a real focus’ on pro-social behaviour and ‘supporting prisoners to feel like people’ is clear, adds Karen. She notes, too, that Nigel demonstrates ‘genuine kindness, support and commitment by treating prisoners with respect and as individuals, making them feel cared for and bringing positivity and hope to their lives.’

Karen goes on to share these unsolicited quotes from prisoners about Nigel.

‘Nigel is always happy and inspires others with his own work ethic’

‘On behalf of the travelling community in HMP Kirklevington Grange I would like to say a big thank you to Nigel Holmes. Nigel always goes above and beyond, he’s always easily approachable and more than happy to help in any way that he can. Well done Nigel, keep up the good work’

‘I was made to feel I was a priority and was impressed with the care I received [from Nigel]’

Meanwhile colleagues added their praise, too, with one saying:

‘Nigel is an exceptionally calm proactive officer in every task that he is given. This makes him approachable to both his peers and the men at Kirklevington. There is never a thought that the work he does will not be to the highest standards and delivered with passion and integrity. His approachable nature has ensured that he has been able to deliver dynamic security to the highest levels.’

Karen explains that Nigel was nominated – and won his category – in Kirklevington Hidden Heroes Awards, which took place in the context of the global pandemic ‘where prison life had changed significantly.’ Colleagues were invited to vote for their peers in 10 categories across the prison. Nigel won ‘the well-deserved award’ for ‘the person who inspires and motivates others’.

Again, the nomination is reproduced largely unedited below – rather longer than usual, but a highly readable and interesting account, too, that gives a clear sense of Nigel, and of the complex realities and deep importance of Prison Officers, as well as some the realities they face and qualities they bring to work with every day – and notably brought at the highest level in the pandemic:

‘Nigel is a person who always seems grateful for the role he has and the environment he works in, and that is infectious. Nigel inspires and motivates prisoners as well as colleagues which is exactly what we need in the prison right now as we have to show all the new prisoners that we believe in them and that they can get the most out of being here and don’t need to continue their old behaviours. Nigel works quietly and supportively with the Gypsy Roma Traveller community and prisoners to create understanding and support. Most notably he inspired and taught a 50 year old man to read and write during the pandemic, making positive use of the situation we were in.

‘Nigel is hugely respected by his peers and prisoners alike and consistently demonstrates the values of the establishment and wider prison service, through his work and commitment to making a difference and providing chances for change. Not only is Nigel’s work of an exceptionally high standard, he acts with professionalism and integrity at all times and forms respectful and trustworthy relationships with those he works with. His positivity is infectious and is an excellent ambassador for Kirklevington.

‘Nigel has worked tirelessly with the Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) community within Kirklevington. He is passionate about raising awareness and takes his role as strand lead seriously, making strong networks within the GRT external community. Nigel invited the King of the Gypsies to speak to staff and prisoners in our prison last year, and continues to build strong links for the prison so that we can improve understanding of the traveller community amongst the settled community of prisoners and staff. Nigel’s work with Greg is just one example of how he uses his time as a personal officer in a person-centred, caring way, to help prisoners see and achieve a positive, law-abiding future.

‘Nigel goes about his work both as a prison officer (personal officer) and strand lead for GRT in a unique way. His meetings are vibrant opportunities in the prison to make connections and for the GRT community to feel supported and seen. Nigel will tell you he has the best job in the world and he is a true inspiration to those he not only works with, but those in his care, particularly prisoners from the travelling community. As Gypsy Roma Traveller strand lead, he has earned the respect and trust of prisoners who identify with this protected characteristic. Nigel has worked hard to break down barriers and raise awareness of some of the challenges they face and built mutually respectful relationships.

‘With Covid restrictions and suspension of visits, this group probably felt the loss of family contact during the Covid pandemic more than most. When speaking to one the travellers who is 50+, he shared that he had asked Nigel to help him write a card to his granddaughter and confided in Nigel that he couldn’t read or write. Nigel asked if he wanted to be able to write his granddaughter a card himself to which he replied ‘yes’, with this, Nigel being Nigel decided he was going to teach him to read and write himself, realising what a massive step this was for him, but also to spare him any embarrassment. After a few weeks Nigel realised that perhaps he needed a hand, as teaching someone to read and write was a tad more difficult than he thought. He approached our education department after speaking with the prisoner first, as he didn’t want to break his trust. With education’s support and Nigel’s continued support and encouragement, this man has learnt to read and write and was able to write a card to his grandaughter for the first time in his life – a true achievement indeed.

‘On speaking with prisoners from the GRT community about how they felt things were going with Nigel as Equalities lead, and if they felt supported, they told the Head of Residence, ‘Nigel is brilliant, a genuine gentleman.’ They told her that they have never felt so comfortable disclosing they are from the travelling community as they do here at Kirklevington, and that’s because of Nigel and the work he has done to raise awareness and give them a voice.

Rebecca Newby is Prison Governor at Kirklevington Grange and adds her own strong support:

‘I am really proud of the prisoner who took the time to nominate Nigel. Having spoken to him, I became aware that Nigel was not allocated to him as a personal officer, but they struck up a rapport and Nigel assumed the role voluntarily and quietly. It was clear in this conversation that Greg values Nigel’s approach and humanness.

He told me that as an ex-serviceman he knows that often the quiet and understated service-people can go beneath the radar even though they do a great job day in, day out. He didn’t want that to be the case for Nigel and felt strongly enough to put in a nomination. Our prison unreservedly supports this nomination. We have seen nominations from prisoners through our performance recognition committee all year, and we know that his peers value his work ethic and approach through their nominations for our ‘Hidden Heroes’ Awards last autumn.

On a personal note, when I attended the talk that Nigel arranged for Gypsy Roma Travellers with the King of the Gypsies, I was so impressed by how many staff and settled prisoners attended and by the quality in the questions being asked. The culture of more than tolerance – of understanding and respect – that was evident in the room and in the culture of our prison is down to Nigel. He has held the role for many years and still goes about it with the same passion.

As the King of the Gypsies left our talk, he commented to me that he would be happy to come back because he can feel that it is not about tokenism or for headlines but a genuine desire to support the community. I am really proud of Nigel.’

Nigel Holmes adds his own words, and again, they bear repeating more or less in full as they illuminate him, and why he is a Butler Trust winner, but because they also offer a much wider reflection of what makes so many Prison Officers so remarkable:

‘I’m fortunate enough to work in an environment where I can exact real positive change to the lives of men. Men who may have historic or current negative factors hindering their chances of leading a purposeful and rewarding life. Through my close interactions with the residents within my care I am able to build up trust and understanding. I enjoy very much time spent with the men just chatting and getting to know life stories. In doing so I can identify any areas that I feel I could offer some support or assistance.

Many of the men that pass through my care come from backgrounds strewn with obstacles that may diminish any chances of positive progression. If only to lend an ear, or to suggest another path is in my opinion a privilege bestowed on me through my position. Working in the open estate I feel places me in an ideal position to assist the men. To accompany someone on a town visit for the first time in years after being in custody for example is a humbling experience. Often these visits can provide me with an intimate look into someone’s life and background. On such visits I regularly find men opening up and embarking on a journey of reflection and regularly at this stage start formulating a “moving forward plan”. If I can inject some pro social modelling into this planning stage I feel it gives my job a whole new perspective and a sense of achievement not measured in salary terms.

In short, I believe most of the men that end up here are already at a stage of looking to make positive change and move away from a life of negativity and crime. If I can at any stage be a catalyst in this transformation then surely it’s a good thing. One of the easiest ways of making a difference in my opinion is simply lending an ear. In this setting, away from all the usual restraints and distractions of closed conditions I find men are afforded the opportunity to open up more. For some this leads to disclosure of significant life events that may never have been spoken about before.

Despite the outcome of this nomination, I feel I receive award enough in the few success stories that I’m sometimes fortunate to hear about or witness. When a man who originally told me he was embarrassed that he couldn’t read and write, sat down and showed me a letter he’d written to his granddaughter and then demonstrated his new found understanding of his bible studies, well that’s reward enough for me. This nomination alone brings about a massive sense of pride for me and lets me know that I have been able to make a positive difference.’