Ex-jail boss Patrick Sean Maguire said his CBE, announced as part of the New Year’s Honours list, is an honour for the entire Prison Service and not just for him.
The Co Down man left the service about six months ago, aged 55, having been in charge of HMP Maghaberry since 2010.
The jail is Northern Ireland’s biggest with roughly 1,000 inmates, and he held the title of “governing governor” – the highest rank.
He started out as a prison officer in 1982 and remained with the service for 32 years.
This included stints at the Maze and Crumlin Road, where he rose to become deputy governor of each.
To say he was surprised at the award would be an “understatement” he said, adding: “I never imagined in my wildest dreams I’d receive anything like this.
“It’s added an additional dance in my step for the new year, for me and my family.”
A full list of recipients can be found here.
There have been many changes through the decades, and his hope is that paramilitary crime will disappear entirely, and that those who follow him will be left to deal only with “the ordinary criminality of a country”.
He said: “It’s safe to say the environment prison staff work in now, even with the relative peace we have, is still immensely challenging.”
He used to tell new recruits to “treat prisoners as you would want to be treated,” and to consider how they would behave if their own brother or father were behind bars.
While he is the one chosen to receive the honour, he said there many others working in the Province’s jails who also deserve such an accolade.
He told the News Letter: “I regard this as a an honour upon the Prison Service.”
Among those named as receiving honours yesterday was a trio of police officers.
These were specialist rape investigator Detective Inspector Stephen Wilson; Sergeant Thomas Stevenson for his “exceptional” service over 30 years; and Sgt George McNee, who helped plan the security operation around the 2012 Olympic torch relay and 2013 G8 summit.