25 September 2019
This year the PLA received over 1000 nominations, all coming from people in prison. There were 18 winners across five categories, including outstanding peer mentors, teachers and education staff, officers, individuals, and staff working in the young people’s estate.
The awards were hosted by Inside Time editor and PET alumnus Erwin James who referred to prison staff and the people who support education as “life changers”. He added: “Education in prison is the key to real freedom. Prison educators are the most powerful life-changers and we all owe them a great debt of gratitude.”
The Prison Educator of the Year award
The highlight of the day came when Ishmail, of HMP Kirkham, was announced as the Prison Educator of the Year – the ‘winner of winners’ out of the award recipients. He received 16 nominations for his work as a peer mentor at HMP Haverigg. Each one praised the work he did encouraging people to attend education classes, offering support to those studying for qualifications, and the additional help he gave to non-English speakers and students with sight-impairment.
In presenting the award, Dr Jennie Somerville, Chair of the Worshipful Company of Educators’ Trust, said, “The ‘winner of winners’ received a large number of nominations unanimous in their appreciation of the amount and the quality of support they had been given. He was said to be unstinting in the time he gives to prisoners, to listen to their concerns and to resolve their difficulties where he can, ‘always willing to go the extra mile’. As a Peer Mentor, his own journey was inspirational to his mentees and made them aspire to improve their lives.”
In his acceptance speech, Ishmail spoke of the strength of his family and the importance of his faith in supporting him through his prison journey. He received a standing ovation and many in the room were moved to tears.
“He brings joy and hope to our classroom”
There were two other winners in the outstanding peer mentor, orderly or rep category. Shauna became a teaching assistant and peer mentor at HMP Bronzefield after completing her Level 1 and 2 in hairdressing and beauty therapy. Responding to news of her award, Shauna said, “The feeling of helping these ladies is amazing – when I am explaining something to them and I can see them get it, like a light that has finally been switched on, it is one of the best things that I have experienced.”
Andrew, the third Peer Mentor winner, received one of the highest number of nominations for his work at HMP Whitemoor. As well as supporting learners with Maths, English and Spanish, he helps with applications and letters. One nomination read, “Andy brings joy and hope to our classroom,” while another stated, “I don’t think I would have learnt anything if it wasn’t for him.”
A fashion department in a men’s prison
This year there were six winners in the Outstanding Teacher category, and each had a special story to tell. Andrea Thompson has spent the last six years at HMP Brixton and has organised and developed Levels 1 to 3 qualifications in Fashion for residents.
She said, “I would like to highlight that this would not be possible without the input of all my students, past and present. Their hard work and willingness to learn made my job easy and fulfilling and allowed me to develop a fashion department within a men’s prison.”
Rowan, a facilitator for Shakespeare in Prisons, was one of four winners in the Outstanding Individual category. Since early 2018 she has worked with The Gallowfield Players at HMP Gartree to edit, rehearse and perform Shakespeare. She was nominated by every member of the group, which has so far performed Macbeth and Julius Caesar. This year Rowan has gone on to set up the Emergency Shakespeare Company in the same model at HMP Stafford.
A clean sweep for HMYOI Feltham
Meanwhile, there was a clean sweep for HMYOI Feltham in the Young People’s Estate category with three staff members winning the award: Dionne Emmanuel, a Learning Support Assistant; Rachna Moudgil, a Learning Support Tutor; and Supriya Tamang, a Youth Support Worker with Kinetic Youth. Supriya was recognised for her work setting up the prison’s Youth Council, giving young people at the prison the opportunity to have their voices heard.
Congratulations to all this year’s winners who have made an inspiring contribution to prison education and a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate.
© Prisoner Learning Alliance 2023