Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2018-19: Susie is the Managing Chaplain at HMP & YOI Isis. She is Commended for her inspiring leadership of a team which plays a central and widely-respected role across the establishment, and for nurturing a prison band that has now appeared on several albums.
The Reverend Susie Simpson is popularly known as ‘Mother Susie’ at HMP & YOI Isis, where she is the Managing Chaplain, a role in which, as Initial Nominator and Line Manager Julian Denton writes, ‘she embodies the role as the moral conscience of Isis Prison and has done so remarkably well for almost a decade.’
Julian says the Chaplaincy ‘goes way beyond statutory delivery, highlighted in our last Inspectorate report’, and praises Susie for championing the development of other members of the team ‘to better understand the wider issues of managing a prison, for their individual development and the good of the department and prison and therefore the men in custody.’ He adds that ‘Mother Susie has ensured that the Chaplaincy is embedded across the prison, accessible to all and plays a key role in the development of the prison.’
Julian believes Susie stands out because:
‘she has distinguished herself in those areas that actually make a community function effectively, but to do so, she has to be invisible and in the background so as to give people the opportunity to feel empowered and flourish. When we recognise people such as Mother Susie, we affirm that the great act of service is often hidden, unassuming, magnanimous and decent. I guess that is what makes it truly remarkable.’
Local Butler Trust Champion and Governor Emily Thomas says that Susie has been the Chaplain at Isis since it opened 8 years ago:
‘The prison has experienced some difficult times: known as ‘Crisis’ during the early years, it was known to hold a very volatile population of young adult men who were prone to instigating violent incidents. Mother Susie has her own story of an incident during Sunday worship where chairs were thrown and fights broke out around her. She remained undeterred by the difficulties and her tenacity and positive approach helped staff and prisoners through some difficult times.’
As Emily notes, ‘young adults are not the most receptive audience for religion but Mother Susie was determined that she and her team would be an integral part of the prison’s community. She has definitely achieved this; all new arrivals at Isis go to the Chaplaincy on their first morning for tea, biscuits and informal friendly support from the team, all those who suffer loss or have a gravely ill family member are seen by a chaplain, all staff who are injured or assaulted see a chaplain, and anyone in need or in crisis can see a chaplain.’
One of the most difficult parts of Susie’s role, explains Emily, ‘is supporting so many young men through bereavement and grief. She attends funeral homes, funerals and death beds with prisoners. She supports men through the whole process and keeps regular contact with families as well, often welcoming families in to the Chaplaincy for private visits when bereavement occurs. Susie recognises the impact of bereavement on prisoners and has worked with CRUSE [Bereavement Care] to obtain two counsellors who work regularly within the prison.’
Another element of her work, explains Emily, lies ‘in recognising the importance of music in engaging young men. She set up a band to perform at Sunday service and band practice time on a Thursday morning has been instantly recognisable to all at Isis by the sounds floating out from the Chaplaincy; some weeks more harmonious than others! Susie also championed the Finding Rhythms course as a way of engaging young men in positive activity during their time in prison.’
Emily offers some background to her calling: “Susie is an Oxford graduate who came to the priesthood later in life when the Anglican church agreed to allow women to be priests. She is thoughtful about prison life on an intellectual as well as an emotional level. As such, she is an asset to my Senior Management Team because she contributes far more widely to discussions on issues affecting the whole community and how we deliver all aspects of our work than we would necessarily expect a Chaplain to do.”
But Susie is also ‘very funny and engaging; people find her very approachable because she can laugh at herself and with others. She laughs easily and often and every morning she has a smile on her face as she greets staff and prisoners.’ Emily adds some remarks about Susie’s support in terms of the impact the role and duties of a prison officer can have:
‘She has counselled staff after they have been involved in funeral escorts, dying relative escorts and other difficult tasks. Recently, she supported two members of staff who had escorted a prisoner to see his dying 4-year-old child.’
Around a dozen prisoners took the trouble to hand-write testimonials to Mother Susie, including Mark*, who said ‘She gave me a job, went out of her way to get a job for me, supported me through a very difficult time’, and Julian, who said Susie ‘helps people even if they are not religious. She doesn’t care if they are religious or not, she always sees good in people. She has helped me change my life…’
Susie herself says her policy ‘is never to give up on a prisoner’. She also acknowledges that ‘everything I do is team work. No-one works alone in prison, we rely on each other, and it is often a joint effort by several members of different departments that can make a difference to a prisoner’s life and encourage him on his journey to rehabilitation, to hope and to a future.’
She concludes with a lovely thought: ‘I want prisoners to start to see themselves as a potential blessing to everyone they meet.’
* Prisoner’s names have been anonymised.
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