Working in Prison

Given the state of prisons, as depicted by the media, it’s often a wonder to me how I ended up working in one as an officer. Given that they’re rife with incidents of self-harm, overdoses, stress, confrontation and the occasional need for lawful force, you would argue that a prison is quite possibly the worst place for somebody like me, who for want of a better phrase is not always in a good frame of mind for these things.

You’d be absolutely right.

In short, I was fairly convincingly duped. Coupled with what was at the time more money than I’d ever come close to earning, a desperate need to move out of my parents’ house, and the culmination of maybe 3 years of stagnating in being depressed pushing my peers to force me out of inaction, it does often feel like there wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t even my idea, it was my father’s, bless him.

When you first apply, you get to go on what is disarmingly known as a “familiarisation day.” This is a guided tour of some of the prison units. Except it was incredibly deceiving. My tour consisted of trips to the two units comprised solely of well-behaved prisoners, a unit that was locked down, and didn’t have anyone to see in it, and the library.

Lancaster Castle, a disused prison, but similar in layout to many units in others.

This created in me a VERY rose-tinted view of this job. I actually began to look forward to working in what increasingly sounded like an incredibly holistic role, almost like a carer. I attended 10 weeks of college, which passed without incident, and on day one was assigned to one of the units that I had no knowledge of, where my first interaction with a prisoner was simply being told to fuck off, and that he wouldn’t be doing anything I told him.

Many illusions were shattered that day.

After 3 months of daily abuse I actually broke down crying while driving home, and crashed my car into a ditch. I was so far gone that I sat being held in by my seatbelt and just cried at about a 30 degree angle for an hour before I got someone to come tow me out. And then I went in the following morning like nothing had happened. I know it’s overused as all hell nowadays, but I am frequently reminded of the definition of insanity:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

Narcotics Anonymous, 1981

Because it’s been a number of years now, and I’m still there. I’ve gotten better at it, but the job is identical. It’s not a rewarding job. For every inmate you help improve, there are 10 that won’t engage, or are actively awful toward you and others. Everyone feels like they’re under suspicion, and you have no idea who to trust. I don’t blame the prison for inaccurately representing the job. That much has been born of necessity. Staff cuts have crippled the service to the point where it feels it teeters on the edge of collapse, so of course they’d be fucking desperate for anyone at this point.

This post is more of an introduction to the topic in general, and I’ll fill out different posts with specific anecdotes as I go.

I don’t actually know why I’m still there, in truth. It is NOT the rehabilitative job that’s advertised. It’s often very dark and lonely, and full of suspicion and internal politics. There have been days where I’ve come home and just thought about hanging myself, but for some reason I’m always back the following morning. Maybe through sharing experiences on here I’ll find out for myself why I do this thing.

I don’t do it because I want to, certainly.

Published by artandsadness

A three-way mix of paintings, talking about mental health and anonymous anecdotes from my job

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