On the Job

I’ve said for many years that no kid ever says “When I grow up I want to be a prison officer.”  Some will say a policeman, some will say fireman, some will say astronaut, but none will ever say prison officer. Hell, I’ve known people who’ve said, even as a kid, that they wanted to be a bank robber or drug dealer (as sad as it is), but I have never come across a single kid who wants to be a prison officer.

Until now.

I was talking to one of the officers here the other day and I told them that no one really wants to be a prison officer when they grow up, when they said, “I did.”

I was taken aback at first. I can’t imagine a kid ever saying this, and if I could imagine it, I’d be very worried. What kind of person would actually aspire to work here?

I asked why they wanted this and they said that even when they were a kid they really wanted to understand what made serious criminals do the things they do. That makes a certain amount of sense, but I still think it is generally strange that any kid would want to work in such an environment. Yet, with them, it sort of made sense. It didn’t seem so strange at all. Not because they are innately strange in and of themself (which might have explained it), but just because it seemed to fit with their character without ever being strange at all.

They went on to say that they had tried to become an officer a number of times before they were eventually accepted and that, each time they tried, the test and admission criteria got easier. Apparently officers used to need 5 GCSEs, but this is no longer required.

Famously, in one episode of The Simpsons, when Homer goes for a job interview to work as a prison guard there is a sign on the wall that says “If you can read this sign you’re over qualified.” A bit of an exaggeration I think but I have actually known officers who can’t read at all including one (who I have written about before) who was convinced to change a parole report by a prisoner, adding words to “help it make better sense”, which actually changed it’s meaning entirely, leading to a much more favourable report without the officer ever realising it.

The Times A-Z of Careers and Jobs says that prison officers “should be positive thinkers with humanity and common sense; they must be good listeners, assertive, have excellent communication skills and the ability to mix with a wide range of people.”

Well, I’ve never come across a group of people as negative as prison officers in general. The only people who even approach the level of moaning they are capable of is us prisoners! As for humanity, there are many who do show this, but I’ve seen seven stone prisoners with heart problems take a kicking from fifteen stone body building officers before now. Put that together with the standard day to day lack of compassion or concern shown by many officers and humanity is a rare thing. I won’t even get started on common sense. I think I’ve written more than enough already on the many and varied ways that a lack of it is demonstrated by the prison service and those who work within it. Good listeners? Some are. But most are only prepared to listen if you’re joining them in a moan about things which affect them personally. Assertive? Well very few are passive, but in my experience most are more aggressive than assertive. And communication skills too? I can’t think of any institution where the procedures for good communication are so firmly established only to be completely ignored by all, management especially. The one thing I can give to all officers is that they do have the ability to mix with a wide range of people. Though I’m fairly sure they don’t have a say in the matter.

However that is just the majority of officers I have met along the way. It is by no means all and I have met some really genuine people too. I’ve written about some of them before in fact. In the case of the particular officer who grew up wanting to work here, I should give them the credit they deserve. I don’t know if they’re necessarily a positive thinker, but they certainly never shows any signs of being overly negative. They have shown a number of people I know real humanity and on more than one occasions has proved themself to be a very good listener when I have had things on my mind. They are very assertive, showing confidence and fairness, and the only real complaint I have about their personal communication skills is the full Yorkshire accent (but we’ll forgive that). All in all, it kind of makes sense that they once said they wanted to be a prison officer when they grow up, because they fit the criteria given in the A-Z of Jobs exactly!

It’s just a shame more don’t.

4 thoughts on “On the Job

  1. Well, Adam, you have finally shocked me. I doubt if any kid around here would admit to such an aspiration.
    Regarding Officers, there certainly are some who are humane; I know this from experience. I don’t know if this is still a relevant statement: I used to say that there were the humane minority, a generally of officer who supports the status quo then a minority of sadists. Actually, reminds me of school too!
    The problem with holding the above reasonable view is that those who, also, reasonably hold the view ACAB apply it to Screws. Anarchists, who seem to think that all Prisoners are revolutionaries, are the most difficult to discuss this with. Then again, very few of them have been inside or read the mass of Prison literature, fact or fiction. One of the leitmotifs of this literature is the humane officer. I remember reading Jimmy Boyle’s account of his time in the Barlinnie Scottish Special Unit, a cage within a separate section of the Unit . He was covered in excreta and urine and waiting for his next battle when some soul threw a half packet of chocolate digestives in. The bizarre is normal in Prison but acts of humanity rare. Victor Serge, Jean Genet and many others including Koestler himself have written eloquently about their experiences. For the sadistic few, the Political is lower than the peadophile for reasons stated to me which I won’t go into here.

    The trick is not to allow dehumanizing circumstances to reduce your humanity. In the 60s, after reading Franz Fanon’s, *Wretched of the Earth*, I stopped calling the Police pigs. In conclusion: My three volume copy of Trotsky’s *History of the Russian Revolution* was robbed for the POs library. I don’t know if they were taken by the sadists or the humane Screws but, certainly, the literate. Come the Revolution!

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