Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
AWARD WINNER 2017-18: Paulette is a longstanding volunteer at HMP/YOI Styal. Nominated by one prisoner, and described by another as ‘my guardian angel’, she wins an Award for the outstanding dedication, care and humanity she shows to the women in the prison, and for her unwavering commitment to their dignity. [This Award is supported by MTCnovo.]
In 2009, Paulette Staniec started volunteering at HMP Styal, a closed prison for young and adult women. She soon responded to the women’s needs in amazing ways, from a shop offering much needed clothing to a knitting group for more vulnerable prisoners. She’s helped the women raise thousands of pounds for charities, including the ‘Big Give Back’ where charities came to Styal to receive cheques, giving women an enormous boost to their self-esteem and a sense of pride in a place where both can be life-saving.
Paulette quickly saw many women coming into prison without money or family support and that it was difficult for them to get new clothes. One woman had a single set, which she was washing every night. “Paulette felt saddened when she discovered that many of the women didn’t even have proper underwear”, explains Butler Trust Local Champion and People Hub Manager, Jane Bennett. So Paulette turned to her church and they donated monthly to provide new clothes and underwear. In 2011, Paulette opened a clothes shop in Styal to give the women “a shopping experience”, and, explains Jane, “this has helped to increase self-esteem and confidence for women that otherwise feel worthless.”
In the moving words of one offender:
“I love Paulette. She has gone out of her way to help me. I was so low when I came to prison and she has always been kind to me every time I asked for help. She has given me advice and support and let me help out in her shop. I am dyslexic and have no confidence around groups of people but this has helped me build up my self-esteem, She has been like a mum to me whilst in here and I want everyone to know what a fantastic woman she is and all the help she has given me.”
Recognising another need among vulnerable and older women, Paulette started a knitting group – which, as well as providing a welcoming space and useful skill, knits caps for premature babies. Other charities Paulette has helped the women support include the RSPCA, PDSA, Knit for Peace and Riding for the Disabled. Paulette is the engine behind a long list of such charitable endeavours – and brings an imaginative quality to them, recognising their wider value for those who give, too.
In 2016, she ran The Big Give Back, which raised £5000 for 15 charities – who were then invited into the prison to receive their cheques. It was, as you can imagine, “an emotional day.”
Vicki Sampey, Head of Safer Prisons, calls Paulette her “guardian angel”, and recalls having committed to helping the family of a little girl with a brain tumour who needed a substantial sum of money, and was worried about how to do it. “Paulette sat down and listened to me and gave advice. Thanks to her positive thinking I was able to refocus and with her help we raised £20,000 for this little girl.”
By any standards, these are enormous sums, especially given they are being raised by a prison with under five hundred inmates – many with little or no resources – and in turn reflects considerable kudos on Styal more widely, too. Paulette has also brought her energies to the Angel Tree charity, which is plugged into the wider prison network, and provides hand-wrapped gifts for prisoners’ families.
It’s estimated that Paulette’s shop has now served over 2500 women, “which is in itself an amazing feat”, says Jonathan Wells of the Safer Prisons Department at Styal. He calls her “a lovely, bubbly generous person who would go to the ends of the earth to help you.” He adds:
“The kindness and warmth she has provided radiates around a room and you know when she is around with her infectious laugh and the sound of her feet marching at a pace on the floor. She has helped and touched so many people’s lives in here and on the outside…She is definitely one in a million and her positivity is second to none…Paulette is a mother, wife, friend, confidant and one of the loveliest people you could wish to have around you.”
As Styal’s Governor Mahala McGuffie remarks, “The number of lives she has touched is countless and the difference she has made can be heard in the conversations between our women on a daily basis.”
It all started with Paulette’s belief that, as she put it, “women are given a sense of common decency, particularly with underwear that fits them!” Paulette also has ambitions looking ahead – include expanding the clothing shop service into other prisons as well as accreditation certificates for women learning new skills in retail.
Paulette herself, describing her work, ended with a simple but powerful remark: “I feel blessed to work with women who have often led very troubled lives but have found the strength to carry on and make positive changes.”