Prison Officer Richard’s rehabilitation work with young men wins Royal recognition

Date published: 06 April 2023


‘He changes lives one at a time, through his gardening and animal husbandry: rehabilitation at its best’ – a remarkable citation for Prison Officer and Butler Trust Award winner Richard Graham.

The 58-year-old was earlier this week presented the prestigious award by HRH The Princess Royal at the annual ceremony in St James Palace to honour people working in prisons, probation and youth justice settings.

“I’m humbled and a bit overwhelmed by it all,” declared Richard, who was joined at the royal occasion by partner Claire, Northern Ireland Prison Service Director General Ronnie Armour, Hydebank Wood College Governor Richard Taylor and Deputy Governor Mark Holmes.

For more than 30-years now, Richard Graham has been a Prison Officer and today serves at Hydebank Wood College, where 18-21 year-old young offenders are encouraged to address their offending behaviour through vocational training, mentoring and support programmes.

“It’s a career I chose a long time ago,” explains Richard. “But since 2006 when I was appointed to the post of instructor in the male gardens, it’s been a labour of love. My background’s in farming and I’ve always had an interest in horticulture, so when I was able to combine them in a working environment, it just became a dream job.”

Today, Ricky - as his prison service colleagues and young inmates refer to him - manages the impressive and award-winning animal husbandry and horticulture project at the Hydebank facility.

“Gardening is a life skill and the self-esteem and sense of achievement can be very evident. We’re producing 12-13-thousand bedding plants every year now, which we use to make hanging baskets, pots and window baskets. We gift many of these to charities and some are sold. We’re also nurturing three wildflower gardens which we’ve sown out around Hydebank,” he adds.

But being also a part-time sheep farmer, it’s the animal husbandry Ricky speaks passionately about.

“We’ve two goats and over 20 sheep at Hydebank now, including new lambs born in the last few weeks, plus there’s also two therapy dogs and four bee hives with more than 40,000 bees. We’ve also had hens and donkeys at a time.”

Ricky continued: “Many of the young men - and females – sent to Hydebank are violent, aggressive and suffering addiction issues. They can be vulnerable, lonely and self-harming. But through horticulture and animal husbandry I’m challenging each one and encouraging self-improvement.

“When they get involved in the project they quickly realise they have responsibility for the animals seven days a-week. Their work involves everything from birthing lambs, weaning into self-feeding, shearing or even preparing them for agricultural shows across the province.”

Of course it’s no surprise all their efforts have been widely recognised with the Hydebank sheep winning first prizes at Balmoral, Ballymena and Castlewellan shows, as well as Championships in Saintfield and Lurgan.

“I’ve lost count the number of young men and young women who have come through the project and transformed their lives,” adds Ricky.

“I see so many improve their well-being, change and create a richer and fuller life for themselves. It’s been quite a journey, but I have been supported throughout by Prison Service, especially Governor Taylor, senior officers Michelle McElnea and Adele Nevin.”

Hydebank Wood College Governor Richard Taylor said: “For decades Ricky has been working with and developing young men through horticulture and animal husbandry. He changes lives one at a time.

“Ricky treats all the young men with respect and dignity. He continually challenges them to change, build confidence and self-esteem. And, without knowing it, they learn new life skills which they can take with them back into the community.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. Hydebank Wood Secure College has a focus on education, learning and employment and accommodates young men between the ages of 18 and 2
  2. Media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office via email to:
  3. Follow the department on Twitter @Justice_NI
  4. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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