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.

The D Word

“It’s like you’re drowning, but everyone around you is breathing.”


Obviously talking about this I can only really talk about myself with any real authority. People can be depressed for any number of reasons, or no reason at all. People can be depressed as a result of a million different stresses and strains, or from just one thing that breaks them. I’ve read stories and anecdotes where people talk about a slow disintegration, a creeping descent where they don’t realise until they’re already there. For me personally it was slightly different, in that I can pinpoint the exact moment I realised things weren’t right.

I’m not really sure what triggered it, if anything. About 6 years ago I was walking down the High Street of my hometown, when I felt an odd feeling in my chest, a sort of tightening. I sat on a bench and just started crying, right there, completely unbidden. I was hit with an incredible feeling of isolation and despair, and I realised that it had been a long while since I could remember feeling “happy.” I went home, and my sister was there, and she hugged me me, all confused. I didn’t really know what to say, so I settled for “I think I’m depressed” in between sobbing.

I went to a GP the following morning, and had a long and frustrating talk with them. No, I wasn’t abused, my childhood was wonderful, and deaths in the family had not adversely affected me. Yeah, I was bullied a little at school but almost everyone is at some stage or other, I think. Eventually they took blood samples and I had to wait 2 more weeks.

On my return, I was informed that I had zero vitamin D inside me, which is apparently significant, and the GP also told me that my brain might not be properly utilising serotonin.

Imagine Your brain is a bathtub. When you run the taps, serotonin comes out, and fills the tub. Once it’s nearly full, wiggle the plug so it’s not quite in the hole right. The serotonin slowly drains out, into your body. The bathtub drains, but you can replenish it by running taps as it does so. This is how your brain should work. Imagine this setup, but the plug is two sizes too small. The serotonin runs out much faster than it can fill the tub…

My GP, showing great aptitude with metaphorical description

So essentially my brain uses serotonin faster than it can make it, apparently.

Except it doesn’t really feel like that to me. It’s more similar to the quote at the start of this post. It feels like I’m standing on a beach at night. I can see the sea, and I KNOW the tide will come in, but it’s way off in the distance, and no man alive can stop the ocean, so I don’t think about it. I’ll look away, distracted by something elsewhere, something that isn’t the beach or the sea, and when I look back, the water is around my knees, and I still won’t think about it because hey, I’m already wet so who cares. Soon I’m treading water, and suddenly everything’s not okay, because I’m not a good swimmer in this metaphor. The people nearby might see me, possibly on boats or inflatables, but don’t see that I’m struggling to stay afloat, so I have to survive until the tide goes back out again, and I’m standing on the beach, and the water is miles away, and so not worth thinking about…

The worst bit is probably knowing it’s cyclical and feeling trapped regardless. Thank god my friends and family stop me drowning.

A Couple in a Forest

The first of what will be quite a lot of art. I paint when I don’t feel well. The sadness seems to manifest itself as better quality work for some reason. It’s not a process I can fully explain. Fans of Duma Key, by Stephen King might grasp what I’m getting at. It just sort of happens.

Acrylic on A3 canvas, 08/12/2019

I borrowed HEAVILY from a painting I watched someone on YouTube paint a while ago, up to and including the compositional elements, because I found myself really liking the style and the way they did the trees, and this was more a test to see if I could. Using acrylics, mine ended up being very lumpy too, which also makes it fun to touch, as well as look at. It took maybe 4 hours, and I want to do more like this in future.

How bad can this go, really?

A Blog post by someone who has never written one before…

Well, Fuck.

— The Jedi Padawan children in Revenge of the Sith, probably

The idea to start a blog had been in my head a while now, circling my brain not dissimilar to Jaws. Hopefully this doesn’t blow up in my face.

I’m not really sure who’ll read this, if anyone. I think it’s more for me to have something tangible to vent/ externalise/ quantify things somewhere other than inside my head.

The blog will be primarily used for:

-ramblings/ ruminations on depression and living with it.

-posting pictures I paint, which I normally do as a way to externalise negative feelings in order to better process them.

-sharing anecdotes about my job. I work as a prison officer, but am not willing to disclose where or for how long. Names etc will be changed, and I won’t be telling you mine.

So really I guess it’s a blog about my life, without actually telling you who I am.

Definitely doesn’t sound mad at all.