Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2021-22: Talha Ahmed has spent twenty years working in the prison service and now heads the Chaplaincy Team at HMP Liverpool. The depth and width of Talha’s experience, and a life of dedicated effort, is such that he richly informs many lives. He delivers, says initial nominator and Liverpool Head of Security, James Winrow, “a first-class service”. His work, whether in front of many, or working with one man at a time, leads to often intangible benefits that are nevertheless enjoyed by colleagues, offenders, and the community at large. Among recent outstanding work, he led his “committed team” to bring highly regarded positive changes to Liverpool’s Chaplaincy work, praised in turn by HMIP. “To me and my peers”, says James, “Talha displays the quality and professionalism of a clearly unique individual, and we are all proud to call him our friend.”
‘We are all proud to call him our friend’
Governor Mark Livingston calls Talha “an outstanding individual and enormously important member of the team.” Talha’s impact extends far beyond Liverpool, too, through both his charitable and voluntary work. Inevitably, as with all faith-based work, many of the most important and life-saving conversations are private, happening in quiet hours and still spaces where faith can be explored and developed, forgiveness sought, and emotional consolation – and better lives lying beyond crime – can be reached for.
Colleagues recognise this less visible part of Talha’s work as among his many contributions, too. Negotiating such complex spaces, including helping direct and channel the bad toward the good, is importantly human yet also very subtle work – and often invisible (not unlike mental health). That Talha Ahmed is superb at this is also apparent from his laudatory testimonials.
As Phil Wheatley CBE, a former head of the Prison Service and now Patron of the Muslim Chaplains Association notes, this work “helps prisoners practice their religion, fully understand it and commit to its tenets. In individual prisons it is often difficult and stressful as Muslim Chaplains to deal with prisoners who have either a limited or distorted view of their faith.” None of this is easy, and success is rarely noticeable, either. So to do it well for so long, as Talha has, is something very special. Nor is it surprising that colleagues see him as “a true inspiration to the great changes which have been widely recognised by HMCIP”.
Talha has been instrumental in many initiatives, says James, which have been “echoed across the region.” Often using his own time to engage in the work of teaching, challenging, and bringing theological clarity to those with distorted views of Islam, he is also excellent at balancing his portfolio of responsibilities, not least as a superb manager of his team. Deputy Governor David McGurrell says he’s been fortunate to work with Talha in two prisons, and he admires “his persuasive desire to ensure equality and decency are at the forefront of everybody’s minds at all times.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Head of Business Assurance, Clare Stanway, is full of praise for Talha re-introducing the National Association of Prison Visitors and establishing a scheme where ‘self-isolating’ men get visited by a prison visitor at their cell, on the wing. She also admires the way he has delivered “a whole programme of themed family days”, as well as initiating resettlement and discharge boards, “once again involving the families in attending and having a voice in the plans with their loved ones.” A key driver of Liverpool’s Family and Significant Others strategy, Talha has also introduced forums to involve family members – and when COVID struck, found ways to continue virtually offering them as a “key area of support for families of our men.”
Governor Mark Livingston is also an admirer, particularly of Talha’s “huge range of interpersonal and emotional skills” which, although often quietly deployed, “does an enormous amount of good and contributes significantly to keeping the public safe and providing an opportunity for those with extremist beliefs to engage in a process of change.”
Talha’s own words offer a further glimpse of the person: “I am immensely proud of my job and also my wonderful chaplaincy team. I really enjoy working at HMP Liverpool and hope to continue to champion decency and continuous improvements to keep it a safe and good place to work and live.” As his Governor says: “A real hidden hero.”