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As I head off into the giddy world of retirement it is with some fortuity that the Spring edition of the Gatelodge magazine provides me the opportunity to jot down some thoughts as I say my farewell.
There is always a tendency, I think, in these circumstances to reflect back with rose tinted glasses an d consider the ‘good old days’ where the prisons were fully staffed, officers were highly paid and there were no assaults and frankly, prisoners just downright enjoyed the company of a prison officer as they embraced their sentence with good grace and humility.
WHA'S LIKE US!
However, I am not that old, and I have not quite come across these circumstances in my thirty odd years in and around the service. In truth the job of a prison officer, no matter where you ply your trade, has and remains one of the most unrecognised and undervalued roles in the world of employment. They work in the harshest of environments, surrounded with the potential to be assaulted at whim and yet rise above this to be caring and compassionate people who endeavour to change the lives of individuals for the good and betterment of society. Of course, skin like a rhinoceros also helps. As does the humour, camaraderie and support for each other in a common understanding of how tough a gig a shift in the gaol can be.
At this point the poignant Scottish rant of “Wha’s like us? Damn few and they’re awe deid” comes to mind. But in the POA family we know that isn’t the case, our members working across the special hospitals, private prisons, immigration and detention centres and escorting, all face the same challenges and unfortunately the same lack of appreciation. The POA are a unique union representing a unique membership operating in unique environments but before we can expect those who don’t know us to begin to understand the challenges we face; it is more important than ever that we recognise and value ourselves.
There is much to be said for our motto “Unity is Strength”, a truism in many ways but encapsulates well the vision of a bold and strong collective but we so often fail to live up to our own expectations and instead embrace and champion division, often publicly, immediately weakening the union in the eyes of the public and significantly, in how we see ourselves. Differences of opinion in policy and/or the manner in which the objectives of the union are taken forward is democratic, positive and healthy. Robust and constructive debate that provides the membership with the assurance that a well-informed strategy is in place to take forward their best interests is good, but it is not the same as seeking division in order to power play union politics or massage overinflated ego’s. Self-interest flies in the face of trade unionism and all it seeks to achieve and merely serves to undermine our proud motto and in turn weaken ourselves.
That is why I believe there will always be a place for the POA just as there is a need for trade unionism in the modern world. The collective bond of sincere and motivated individuals who share a common cause and objective is what drives trade unionism and is as relevant today as it has always been. Sometimes we need to take the time to remind ourselves of the question, if we don’t look after each other, who will?
I have had the very good fortune to have known and worked alongside some fantastic people both in and out of uniform and some have been taken from us too early but who are not forgotten. Too many to mention individually but nonetheless it is my pleasure to have the opportunity to express my gratitude and thanks to the individuals who mentored me in my early days in the SPOA NEC and who always remained available for advice and guidance throughout and who now rightly take their place amongst the ranks of the HLM’s. To colleagues across the SNC, NEC and NI Area Committee past and present and our sister union in Ireland, thank you for your friendship and comradeship. The tight knitted group of full-time officers, GS and DGS who provided me with support and encouragement during some dark days, you have my grateful thanks and appreciation.
To my good friend and colleague, who also happens to be one of the finest Scottish Chairman to take the seat (and he had big boots to fill), a simple thanks could not do my gratitude to you justice pal.
Last but by no means least the backbone of the union and the cogs that make the union wheels run behind the scenes, our fantastic admin staff in Cronin and regional offices you have been a pleasure to know and to work with over the years. Being in the right place at the right time and on the right day has largely been down to the efforts of Kathryn and Lorraine my evergreen support and confidantes over the years to whom the operation of the POA in Scotland owes much, as do I. My love and gratitude to you both ladies.
And on that note dear friends, I’m off to dry my eyes and leave you with my very best and sincerest wishes for a long and successful future.
Assistant General Secretary
Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.