Pasimaca Osment or Mama Pam as she was widely known, has been awarded a Lifetime Award posthumously at the 2019 Spirit of Service Awards at Te Papa, in Wellington.
A prominent Fijian public servant, Pasimaca recently passed away from cancer, but her family attended the September 12 awards, which recognise Public Sector excellence and a spirit of service.
The Lifetime Achievement Award winner is selected by the State Services Commissioner and it honours an individual who embodies the spirit of service and who has made an exceptional contribution to the Public Sector in their lifetime.
In 1991, Pasimaca became one of the first female prison officers in New Zealand to work in a maximum-security jail – at Auckland’s Paremoremo Prison.
A former national squash player and competitive ballroom dancer, Pasimaca spent three decades working with some of New Zealand’s most dangerous prisoners, including long stints in Paremoremo’s high-risk and psychiatric units.
She was known for being both mentally and physically tough, and had a reputation built not on fear but respect.
When one inmate punched her in the face – the only time she was ever been assaulted – the other prisoners in his unit had to be warned against taking retribution on her behalf.
A mother of five, including two sets of twins, Pasimaca was born in Fiji, where she trained as a nurse before moving to New Zealand.
Her last role was as a Principal Corrections Officer based at Auckland’s remand prison in Mt Eden, after being brought over from Paremoremo in 2015 as a troubleshooter to help knock the place back into shape after it became clear private operator Serco had lost control of the jail.
Pasimaca swept through the cell blocks, bringing discipline back to the ranks on both sides of the bars, before being put in charge of the prison kitchen and laundry.
In a North and South article written earlier this year, Pasimaca said running the place was very challenging.
“Look at them, they’re free here…anything can happen, just like that. But being a mother, I just step in to make things work.”
One of 10 children, Osment was born in Narocivo, a village on the remote Fijian island of Nayau. A skinny tomboy, all she wanted to wear until she was 15 was a pair of her dad’s oversized khaki trousers, held up with string.
To fill in the hours when she was a young nurse on night shift, she began writing to two penpals: one in Nigeria and one in New Zealand.
She met the Kiwi for the first time when he flew over to Fiji for her 21st birthday party and proposed.
They settled in Wellington and Osment was shocked by how sexualised society was here, compared to Pacific culture.
The local Methodist congregation was too elderly, so she got talking to some Mormons on the street and joined the Latter-day Saints.
When her marriage eventually broke up, leaving her with three sons to raise, she prayed to be given a mission serving people.
She found it at Mt Crawford Prison, where she turned up at the door one day and talked the superintendent into giving her a trial.
She shrugs off how tough that was, working with men who did not believe she belonged there and didn’t bother to hide their resentment.
But by the time she got to Paremoremo, nothing really rattled her - one morning, she walked into the staff kitchen and found the walls plastered with Playboy centrefolds.
“That could be your wife, your daughters…” she told the guards who were watching to see how she would react. The pin-ups were gone by lunchtime.
Her second husband, Anthony, is a retired Air New Zealand Engineer. The couple met playing squash and have twin girls together.
Mt Eden Prison Director Dennis Goodin describes Pasimaca as a trailblazer for women on the frontline in Corrections, admired for her skill and integrity.
“Not to mention her great sense of humour,” he says.
“Her passion for her job, as well as her compassion for the people she supports, has never wavered.”
Pasimaca turned 69 in July, and when asked about her career, her reply was: “I’m not saying I’m going to change the world. But if I can change just one life, I have done my job as a Corrections Officer. Because we have to have hope. Otherwise what is there?”
Other Spirit of Service Award winners for 2019 are: