Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2020-21: Sara Musker works as a Safety Analyst at Hindley Prison, but is Commended for her role in the Decency Team, which she does in addition to her main work, and does quite extraordinarily well, as attested in heartfelt testimonials by both colleagues and prisoners, upon whose lives she clearly makes a real and very positive impact.
Vicki Sampey, Head of Kindness at HMP Hindley, and Sara’s Initial Nominator, starts by saying: “Not all heroes wear capes and our hero at Hindley is Sara. Sara goes out of her way to build hope and change lives. She takes decency to another level and makes the world a better place for our men, staff and the local community.”
The Decency Team at HMP Hindley combines men and staff working together, says Vicki, to improve living standards and conditions and “give everybody a voice.” Since Sara set up the team, Vicki reports, “Hindley has seen an improvement in violence reduction, rehabilitative culture and relationships between staff and men.” As well as that, Sara “has also made a huge amount of money for charity and the men have appreciated the opportunity to be involved in giving something back whilst at the same time making their own families proud.”
One area Sara has changed is the visiting experience, says Vicki. “She took family days to the next level by doing themed events such as Christmas events where families were provided with a fabulous Christmas dinner, the men designed a huge grotto and Father Christmas made an appearance with gifts.” She then adds a moving observation: “Some of these men had not had a Christmas experience with their families for many years.”
Not content with Christmas, Sara held a Valentine’s Day event, too, “where families had a three-course meal together.” Meanwhile, says Vicki, “one of our young offenders was really struggling. Sara invited his Grandmother to the event but she had no transport. Sara’s response to this was to organise for staff to collect his Grandmother and take her home afterwards.”
Turning to Sara’s impact on staff, Vicki calls her “an Ambassador for staff support.” This has included “lots of fundraising for staff that have been ill or facing a very difficult time.” Meanwhile Sara ensured staff morale remained high during the COVID 19 pandemic, organising a staff BBQ (including lots of planning to ensure social distancing was in place). Then there were numerous raffles as well as refreshments on a very hot day, all part of wanting “to ensure staff feel valued and appreciated”, one of the vital mainstays of successful work of any kind, and especially potent in the prison environment.
Vicki then turns to the wider community, noting Sara has “collected food for local food banks, raised lots of money to buy Christmas presents for local children who would not have received any, for mental health support and for the local children’s hospice, among others.
Vicki added her own testimonial, too, where says, simply, but notably: “She brightens up even the most difficult days at Hindley. She always thinks about others.”
Richard Ikin, Hindley’s HR Business Partner and Butler Trust Local Champion shared a number of strong testimonials by colleagues and prisoners, starting with his own, where he notes that Sara joined the regional and local people committee so that she can make a difference for staff, and that “her work is purely voluntary and comes from the desire to add real value for her colleagues and men in our Community at Hindley’.
Another Governor, Paul Whittingham, says Sara’s “energy, enthusiasm and commitment to providing a safe and decent environment for both prisoners and staff is infectious”, while one officer praises Sara for helping him through a difficult period, adding “I do not know where I would be without her – I don’t think I would have stayed in this job.”
Prisoners are equally effusive, with ‘Josh’ saying “At Hindley we need Sara, she has done an amazing job with the decency team. I am proud to be on it. She makes the prisons a better place.” ‘Kane’ added that “Sara is a good person and always helps everybody. She has helped me turn my life around.”
Anne Marie, a Chaplain and colleague calls Sara “amazing. Nothing is too much trouble. She helps our most vulnerable and keeps them safe.” A powerful example involved a newly arrived offender with autism: this remarkable testimonial, by the boy’s mother, really shows someone making a life better:
“Sara really understood the implications of Autism in the prison environment and worked hard to ensure any gaps in communication were filled, his time was occupied and he could connect with relevant processes. Her pre-emptive actions have made a world of difference in ensuring my son could ‘get his head round things’, settle into a routine and succeed in education. Most importantly, it was clear that she did care what happened to him, and he knew and appreciated that. I am really grateful for all she has done.”
(Sara, commenting on this work, generously adds that “it was a collaboration between me, mum & his Keyworker. I am proud of this as this young man would have possibly struggled to complete courses, but due to the communication of his needs he was able to complete a lengthy programme and achieve a move to open conditions.”)
Another Christmas story also has a particularly moving conclusion. Sara worked with a food bank to find three local families that, through no fault of their own, were in need and did not have any money for Christmas dinner or to give their children any toys. Together, Sara and the Decency Team raised £4,000 and the families, says Vicki, “were each taken to the supermarket where they filled two trollies each. Sara wanted to make sure that they had a Turkey dinner but that they also had enough food to last them for weeks afterwards so that they could enjoy a real stress-free Christmas. Lots of toys were purchased for the children and Sara arranged for these to be dropped at their houses in secret so that they could be from Father Christmas.”
Then Sara invited the three families into the prison for a three course Christmas dinner. “The Decency Team men and their families also attended. Some of the mothers of our men were crying as they said they were so proud of the work that their sons had done and what a difference Sara had made to these families and the food bank.” (Sara understandably calls this “one of my best days ever”)
Sara has also organised Wing competitions for the men, to encourage them to not engage in any violence, reports Vicki. “This has involved those being violence free being able to access rewards. Sara delivered thousands of pizzas to our residents that were made in our catering department. This had a huge impact on reducing our violence.”
Sara shows care and support to all the men, with a particular emphasis on those who are vulnerable. She has raised thousands of pounds for a hospice (on behalf of a young man with Williams Syndrome; she also sent him a chocolate hamper!) for MIND. Her focus on staff includes hampers for staff who have had operations, are recovering from cancer or been hospitalised due to COVID 19.
Bryan Hopwood, Hindley Prison’s Acting Governing Governor is “very proud of the work Sara has done…she is an exemplary member of staff. As Governor I have seen first-hand the difference that Sara has made in providing positive outcomes for both staff and our men.”
He puts her impact simply but powerfully: “She makes Hindley a better place for everybody.”
Sara herself says “it gives me so much satisfaction to know that I am contributing to changing people’s lives for the better. I feel very lucky to be able to work with the men in our custody and staff members to raise money for good causes and local charities. This provides the men an opportunity to give back to the community and gives them a sense of purpose. I know like me they are very proud.”
COVID, meanwhile, has been a tough time and so on 29th September 2020 Sara helped celebrate ‘Hidden Heroes Day’ (a Butler Trust initiative). “On this day we greeted all staff coming on duty with a hot drink, goodie bag (sweets/chocolate) & also a bacon or sausage sandwich. Later in the day each department was asked to attend the Sports Hall in small groups where they had pie and cake. At the same time staff recognition awards were given. Staff said they felt appreciated and valued. As part of the planning for this day I had to ensure the event was run in compliance with the COVID 19 operating requirements. Not one to let an opportunity to raise money for charity go I held a raffle and we were able to donate £1000 to the charity Ronald McDonald House in Manchester.”
Sara adds that “COVID has been a difficult time for everyone and I feel I have been able to spread some cheer and happiness to the men in our custody, their families and also staff of all disciplines/departments that work at Hindley. I truly feel blessed to have been able to do this and to also see the impact this has had. Despite the pandemic I have raised thousands for local charities and staff causes but sometimes it’s the small gestures that can have the biggest impact.”
She concludes by saying “Decency & kindness is the driver of all I do,” and cites a version of the Golden Rule when she adds “I work on the fact I treat people how I would want me or my family to be treated.” Sara concludes with a statement of what will now be rather obvious from the above testimonials: “I am passionate about doing the right thing at the right time.”