Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2015-16: Paul is a Residential Officer at HMP Castle Huntly who was nominated by a prisoner and receives a Commendation for his role in developing support for veterans in the prison.
Paul Elliott is a Residential Officer at HMP Castle Huntly who was nominated by a prisoner for his outstanding work in his role developing support for veterans in custody.
His initial nominator, Brian*, is an ex-services prisoner (ESP), who describes how Paul “ensures that he meets all new veteran arrivals at their initial induction period. He arranges a meeting for the prisoner with members of the local SSAFA [the UK’s oldest Armed Forces charity] and avails them of the other agencies that can help their re-integration back into the community. My personal reason for nominating Officer Elliott is because his efforts have ensured that when I leave prison I will be a well-rounded, positive member of society.”
Brian goes on to describe how “on my arrival to the Open Estate he approached me to inform me that he was the VICSO [Veterans in Custody Support Officer] and that as a veteran I would be able to gain help that various agencies make available to veterans. Something about his manner in communicating these issues to me and in the way he was obviously interested in me not just as a prisoner but as a fellow veteran put me at ease. He initially introduced me to SSAFA who visit the prison and continues to liaise with them regarding myself. I have to say that it was his unwavering trust in me that reignited the feeling of camaraderie that I lost when I began my offending. More importantly this also had the effect of building up my self-respect for myself and for society in general.”
Brian says Paul has “ensured that he speaks to me on a regular basis and never stops looking for new ways of building up a realistic release plan for my future. There are many positive things I could say that would describe this man – he is professional, inspirational but really he is just a genuine non-judgemental human being and I will be always grateful. He is always available to the other ex-servicemen who seek help and encourages those who maybe feel too ashamed to look at what is available for them. His goal is to ensure that, as VICSO, all veterans find ways of reigniting that camaraderie that they once had and to gain their self -respect and respect for the community.”
Brian adds, “I must also mention the benefits his efforts have on the well-being of prison staff, public safety and society in general are endless. He starts with men who had alienated themselves from society through violence and drugs and helps them regain respect for themselves and also for the prison staff they work with. This has a positive effect on other prisoner’s relationships with staff as they see how effective the prison staff can be in our rehabilitation if we ask for their help and give them time to set things in motion for us.”
Brian makes a point of listing half a dozen of Paul’s colleagues whose support has been important in helping him undertake his “life changing work with ex-veterans that he has so selflessly engaged in,” adding “special thanks to him from those of us that he has helped regain a place as a positive members of society.”
Butler Trust Local Champion Gordon Robertson, a Lifer Liaison Officer and Parole Manager at Castle Huntly recalls how Paul, an ex-Royal Marine (he served 12 years) “approached our senior management team at that time with an idea of initiating a small project team of ESPs and staff as means of supporting all ESPs at Castle Huntly.” The project lit upon the idea of “constructing a Remembrance and Contemplation Garden,” which “would not only be utilised by ex-servicemen but by all prisoners who required at any time a period of contemplation.” Paul reached out for support from Poppyscotland, SSAFA, and the Royal British Legion, and the garden was completed in time for each organisation to send a national representatives for the Remembrance Day Service “which was also greatly attended by both prison staff and prisoners. The Garden was completed to such a high standard that it was recognised by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) who featured the Remembrance Day service in ‘Our People’, a SPS magazine. This was the catalyst for other prisons throughout Scotland visiting and meeting with Paul as a means to support them in adopting a Memorial Garden in their setting. It is fair to say the die was cast.”
Paul went on to forge links with a local veterans centre, Tayforth, which “provides a unique service to our ESPs in that they offer the opportunity of access to the Combat Stress programme via Unescorted Day Release under license conditions. Further Tayforth opportunities include: CV Building, soft skills such as self-presentation, body language, communication skills, etc. To enhance this, Tayforth have a partnership with local employers who [provide] safe mock interviews for their clients to engage in as part of the programme.”
In 2014 Paul started another partnership initiative. Poppyscotland funded the first successful prison based ‘LifeWorks’ Programme in the UK, and half of those who attended have since gained sustainable employment on being released from Castle Huntly. So far, Paul has supported over 120 ESPs with their re-integration to the community setting.
Gordon continues: “Paul approaches this role as he does everything else, with professionalism and diligence. His commitment to his role and the SPS is very evident in the manner that he approaches his day to day duties, which are always completed to the highest of standards; this is Paul… A true professional in all that he undertakes, concluding that “Paul is a true role model to the Scottish Prison Services mission statement of ‘Helping to Build a Safer Scotland – Unlocking Potential – Transforming Lives’.
Dot Pringle, Employment Services Coordinator for Poppy Scotland writes that Paul “is the linchpin to effective partnership working on behalf of Armed Forces offenders preparing to return to the community [including enabling] Poppy Scotland to provide a week-long motivational employability course, ‘LifeWorks’, at the Open Prison over the past two years. Paul’s hands-on approach to this initiative is at a level where he is considered as an essential member of the team from Royal British Legion Industries who deliver the course.”
Another prisoner, Mike, recalls his own story: “I served as a Royal Marine Commando for four years before being medically discharged and my father spent 24 years in the army. He is a Falklands veteran. Therefore, the fact I came from a military back ground motivated me further. SSAFA have been extremely helpful in communicating with other organisations such as Poppyscotland, Royal Navy and Royal Marines to raise funds for courses, which will ultimately assist me finding employment in the future”, while Paul adds his: “My own experience of support from ex-servicemen’s organisations has made me very thankful for my good fortune, causing a lot of reflection on the fates of those who didn’t come home. When I was first remanded in custody it was SSAFA that put me in touch with Combat Stress who helped me tremendously. When I progressed to the Open Estate and was getting ready for release into the community, SAFFA sent a case worker to organise funding enabling training in Heavy Plant, broadening the scope for employment on release.”
Castle Huntly’s Governor, Jacqueline Clinton, writes that “Officer Elliott has successfully mobilised community assets to assist prisoners and this is to his credit,” adding that the Prisoner Forum members (a representative forum of prisoners who regularly engage with managers) asked that their appreciation of the work done by Officer Elliott be formally recorded as positive feedback on the record. This was a first in my experience.” She says “The aspiration to help those who have given their service in times of need is absolutely admirable and Officer Elliott has personally delivered to the benefit of over 100 people not to mention their families. This is a true achievement in restoring positive citizenship and reducing reoffending. The Memorial Garden set up by Officer Elliott has given comfort and a place of peace and reflection to many, including members of the community – I encountered a family only last week who came to see the memorial plaque on the anniversary of their son’s death and they told me of the comfort it gives them.”
Paul himself writes that it is “hard to believe it was December 2012 when I took on the role as VICSO at HMP Castle Huntly. The project team initially consisted of two Marines, a Para, and a landscape gardener with a budget of £1000. In consultation with Ex Service Prisoners (ESP) and staff, I identified a theme for the garden area of ‘Memorial and Reflection’. Working during the Winter was tough but a sense of team spirit, self worth and self respect grew. The enthusiasm and commitment demonstrated by those involved from ESP (the main drivers), staff and community placements was incredible… Volunteers continue to give up spare time and I don’t turn anybody away.”
Paul says “the garden has been built with the wall as a back drop, ex-service personnel plaques and an area of quiet reflection along the arched walkway with plaques from prisoners and staff remembering departed friends and family members.” The representatives from Royal British Legion, Poppy Scotland and SSAFA were jointed by MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament), RFEA (the Forces Employment charity), as well as local ex-service personnel. “Prisoners and staff stopped working and all attended.”
Paul describes his approach: “In my practice I look at the individual, their journey to our first point of contact and look to identify individual pathways back into society equipped with the best possible tools to keep them out of prison. I have learnt a valuable lesson myself: ‘don’t leave anybody behind’. I try to apply this ethos.”
Many of Paul’s ESPs have gone on to find sustainable employment. Examples Paul gives include work in an artist workshop, a modern apprenticeship for wood restoration, a painter and decorator, several driving HGVs, a self-employed fitness coach, a life coach, and a window cleaner. As Paul says, “all diverse but sustainable employment.”
Paul concludes by saying he is keen to show others “how this process works” and to “share ‘our’ experiences on this journey” in order to facilitate the sharing of experience and building of best practice “to help ESPs become the citizens they once were.”
[* Names of prisoners have been changed to protect their identity]
[The growing role and quality of support for veterans in custody was the subject of one of this year’s Butler Trust Workshops – a write-up and further materials can be found here.]