I’ve been watching the news over the past couple of weeks which have shown some disturbing images of prison riots.
Prison officers being interviewed in the press say that cuts in staffing mean they don’t have time to deal with individual prisoners’ requests and issues. They’re spending less time interacting with prisoners which means that they miss out on changes in prisoner’s behaviour.
It’s been reported that prison management isn’t bothered about frontline staff as long as they complete the necessary paperwork. Management don’t see the importance of engaging with officers or prisoners on a daily, face-to-face basis. The end result is totally demotivated officers.
Therein, I believe lies the problem. For anybody that’s been in prison, it’s fair to say that a good officer can make all the difference and the impact they can have on an individual can go on long after the individual leaves prison.
I arrived in prison having just received a 4 year sentence. Not having any control over my situation or environment was a huge culture shock and it became obvious that prisons are generally under-funded places, having to deal with a variety of people, some of whom can be really difficult to manage. It was also clear that when asking a question some prison officers knew nothing and didn’t want to know anything, whilst others knew loads and were keen to impart their knowledge to others. Officer G was one such woman.
The things she did may sound simple but they were different to the way a lot of the other officers acted.
- She was a role model for socially acceptable behaviour. For example, she always referred to us as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, she was always really polite and never used bad language.
- For anybody that was willing to make changes to their lives she was happy to reward their positive behaviour. This was simple stuff like arranging a bingo afternoon or a film show on a Sunday afternoon.
- She was always keen to encourage us to seek guidance, information and advice from a wide range of different organisations and she would often get the more capable prisoners to help those who were less able.
Officer G didn’t think that prison should stop us being individuals and more importantly, women. After we complained that the make-up we could purchase through the prison shop was useless and really expensive, Officer G contacted a well-known make up supplier and became the wing’s ‘Avon lady’. She used a team of girls to help her package it up and distribute it which reflected the trust she put in us.
Everybody in prison will have worries or concerns of some kind and mine was what I was going to do for work when I left prison. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go back into my previous line of work but I didn’t know anything else. I spoke to Officer G about this who explained that I’d soon be eligible to move to an open prison where I’d be able to do some voluntary work before being able to apply for paid work. She told me that I should think carefully about where I did my voluntary work as it could potentially lead straight into a paid job which I may be able to continue upon my release. She suggested that I consider work in the retail or leisure industry as career progression can be quite quick.
The next day when I saw Officer G she gave me a list of hotels which were local to the open prison that I’d be moving to. She told me that she thought I had some good people skills and she could see me working in a hotel. I set about updating my CV and sent it out along with a covering letter explaining my conviction and current circumstances to all the hotels on the list, asking whether they had any opportunities for either voluntary or paid work. By the time I’d moved to the open prison a month later, I’d already lined up a couple of interviews.
To cut a long story short, I was offered a work experience role with a large hotel chain. These roles are generally geared at school leavers looking to get a taste of what working in a hotel can offer. However, the company is large enough to tailor these programmes to an individual’s needs and this enabled me to work with them on a voluntary basis for a couple of months. As soon as I was eligible to, I applied for a team members job which involved working on the reception desk and also in the hotel restaurant when required.
I’ve now left prison but have continued working at the hotel. I was promoted pretty quickly to team leader and I’m now working towards a job as an Operations Manager. I’m very self-motivated and I’ve worked hard to get where I am. However, without the guidance and the push from Officer G I’m not sure that I would be where I am today. So thanks Officer G, you’re one in a million.
By Daisy (name changed to protect identity)
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