One subject I hadn’t given much thought to, or a question more than a subject, is what’s it like to work in prison. I hadn’t given it much thought because, technically, I never did and I’m sure the question wasn’t asked to find out what it was like to sew mailbags.
In the main, people asking me are considering volunteering in prison in one form or another or working in the education department. Although, I have also been asked by people considering a career as a prison officer.
I can only speak from my perspective, but I’ve always, well not as a YO, had a lot of respect for people who choose to work in a prison environment. Especially people who volunteer. To me, it didn’t matter if they represented HMP, this provider or that provider, this service or that service. Or imparted this practice or that policy. What mattered most to me was how the person, in whatever capacity standing opposite me, treated me as me. An individual and not just another number, or even name. Nor as a percentage gained from the Offender Group Reconviction Scale (OGRS), or the OASys Violence Predictor (OVP), or from a Risk of Serious Harm (RoSH). An OASys (Offender Assessment System) should not define the person.
Is it any wonder I was struggling for an identity in prison as much as I was searching for one in society? Fortunately, I did find an identity. Ironically, it was whilst in prison, but that’s another story and one I’ve told many times before.
How then, could I want to be treated as an individual but in return judge as a group?
I like to think, no matter the department in which someone worked or the uniform they wore, I treated people I met along the way as an individual. My frustrations, anger, was at, as well as myself for years, the system! I should add a caveat stating I’m talking about the people who worked in prison who did/do their job right.
No one, wherever they work, should expect to get abuse at their place of work; and in the case of prison, everyone has the right to go home at the end of the day, and of course, at the end of a sentence. (Not the full stop)
It is certainly a lot easier, in some respects, for a female to work in the adult men’s estate. Women are certainly afforded a lot more protection by people in prison than their male counterparts. There’s more bravado on show when being faced by a male member of staff but it’s more a case of desperado when faced by a female member of staff. I’ve seen some moves and heard some lines that would make you cringe like a crisp packet under a hot grill. Remember those, melted crisp packets with safety pins to turn them into mini-crisp packet badges? All the rage years ago.
For obvious reasons, football shirts are not permitted to be worn in prison, the irony there is that most male members of staff will use the “what’s your team?” way in. Children’s/family photos tooth pasted to the wall also provide conversation starters for staff members.
I was not what you would call a model prisoner, I could make myself look like a model prisoner whilst totally ripping the arse out of it which was all part of the game. When I got caught, and I always did, it was what it was and whatever followed was also part of the game. If everyone kept to the rules of the game, prison rules are just the official ones, then it made for a happier, calmer, and safer landing/wing/classroom/workshop for everyone living or working there.
Over the years, I became adept at managing my expectations. Made easier when provided with the information. I also grew to enjoy, and look forward to, bang-up. However, if I was due to be unlocked at 7:45 am Monday to Friday, then I expected to be unlocked a 7:45 am, a few minutes late was fine. As time passed, the frustration and anger levels would rise, and the balance of rationality could potentially temporarily (or permanently) slide, the longer the lack of information went on. On the other side, if at 7:40 am I was told that there’s no unlock until they serve lunch, then I’d be gutted but I can at least kick me shoes off and get on with my morning behind the door. Usually spent catching up on a few things, or letter writing. If not, an enjoyable book would keep me entertained until unlock.
These things happen in prison, doesn’t mean to say you’re happy about it, but if you know, then, it is what it is. An informed landing = a calmer landing, and hopefully, no one banging on their door all morning.
The main piece of advice I give to anyone asking me about working in prison is not to give false promises, I was used to the word no and I may not have liked hearing it but at least I wasn’t left hanging.
A false promise is far, far, far worse than a no!
I would like to finish by saying I would recommend working in prison to anyone with the right attitude. Prison is a challenging environment, goes with the territory, but with the right intentions, and the right attitude, it can be an incredibly rewarding place to work, and I should know, I lived and worked there at the same time.