The deputy governor at the Isle of Man Prison retired on Thursday after 39 years service at several institutions throughout the British Isles, including two spells in the island.
Colin Ring encountered some of Britain’s most notorious criminals and witnessed many significant changes during his long career.
It has not been a regular nine-to-five working life, but it is one he looks back on with great pride and affection as he prepares to hang up his prison keys for the final time.
‘I remember my father saying I’d never stick it out because the prison service was a tough way of life back in the 70s. But I enjoyed the job from day one and here I am 39 years later,’ says Colin.
Colin was born in Birkenhead and was the youngest of three brothers. He tried his hand at more conventional employment after leaving school at the age of 15. He was an apprentice engraver for a short time and also worked at the Lever Brothers soap factory in Port Sunlight.
It was one of Colin’s earlier jobs that first brought him to the Isle of Man, as manager of the Singer sewing machine shop in Castle Street, Douglas in 1973.
This led to him meeting his future wife, Manx girl Jane Callow, with whom he has two children. The couple will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary next year.
Colin’s first official posting in the prison service was at Stoke Heath Borstal in Market Drayton.
A promotion to the rank of Prison Hospital Officer in 1977 took Colin to Wormwood Scrubs.
‘I had to lock up a number of infamous characters on my particular landing,’ says Colin. ‘UK prisons were also overcrowded back then, often with three men to a cell, and slopping out in the mornings is not a sight I’ll ever forget!’
The Ring family moved to the Isle of Man in 1978 when Colin became the first Hospital Prison Officer at Victoria Road, working under Governor Tom Reilly.
While life was good on the island, Victoria Road had fewer than 20 inmates and a small staff at the time, so opportunities for career advancement were fairly limited.
Further career moves saw Colin work at Liverpool Prison, HMP Whitemoor and Leeds before returning to the Victoria Road prison in 1994, under Governor Rosie Crosby.
He then went on to become Deputy Governor and also spent four months as Acting Governor in 2008.
Colin has witnessed many changes in the prison service over the years.
‘The introduction of the smoking ban at the prison was contentious, but we firmly believed it was the right decision to make. I remember not being able to see from one end of the visitors room to the other because of all the cigarette smoke. It’s a much healthier environment now, for staff and prisoners,’ he says.
Colin was the last officer to leave the Victoria Road prison when the move to Jurby took place in 2009, locking the big gatehouse doors behind him one final time.
‘The move was a massive undertaking. Transferring an entire prison population just doesn’t happen anywhere else. If a new jail opens in the UK it will usually accommodate prisoners from a variety of other facilities. We had to move our entire operation in one day and remain fully functional,’ he says.
On running a prison in a small community Colin says: ‘You might lock somebody up every night for a couple of years and then come face-to-face with him in the local supermarket a few days after he’s been released. It’s a potentially difficult situation, but staff at the prison are very professional and the relationship between officers and prisoners has been recognised by HM Prison Inspectorate as one of our greatest strengths.’
Of the future he says: ‘I’ll miss the banter with staff and prisoners. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people.
‘I’m not a fan of DIY, I hate gardening and I don’t play golf. But I’ve got a few options under consideration to ensure I don’t get under my wife’s feet,’ he adds.