Welcome to my stop on the mini blog blitz for Diary of a Prison Officer, courtesy of Rachel’s Random Resources.
I have an extract to share, but first of all let’s see what the book is about.
It’s 2003, Tony Blair is still Prime Minister and a shy loner from London, Amber Campbell, joins the prison service searching for purpose.
Behind the walls of the women’s prison Amber is determined to prove that she has what it takes. She makes a pact with two close friends to support each other no matter what. However, the three Black women struggle when they experience discrimination and disappointment at every turn.
There is rising racial tension in her home town when twelve far right local councillors are elected. Amber reflects on the prison system in her blog and takes an emotional journey off the beaten track through Africa to find love.
“So, Amber, tell me about yourself,” Maria said as a prison gate slammed shut. She was unfazed by the unnatural, ‘dungeon-like’ environment we were walking deeper and deeper into. Then another gate clanged shut and she started wittering on about herself, as we struggled to keep up with the training officer. It was our first day as prison officers at Her Majesty’s Prison Holloway. We went through one door and onto a wing, which then led to another door that led to another wing, then through another and upstairs, which led to another wing. In the dimmed artificial light, the training officer occasionally glanced back. She all but charged forward yelling, “This is B unit. This is A unit. And this is Level 3”, as she led us around the maze-like prison with corridors that snaked around corners and thick metal doors locked behind us at every turn.
“Europe’s largest female prison and it’s the UK’s highest security prison for women” the training officer shouted back at us, as if we were on a guided tour. “It was rebuilt in 1971 and designed with a hospital layout with wide corridors and dormitories. The idea being that women were mad, not bad. I’ve been here a long time and I can tell you for a fact that some women are just plain old bad.”
I hurried along in my new uniform with the creases from the packet still visible. The thunderous sound of prisoners banging on their cell doors shook the prison.
“This is Amber Campbell,” the training officer said to the three officers sitting in the office.
They then abandoned me on D3 unit and told me to observe the three officers.
“So, tell us about yourself Ms Campbell,” one officer, Ms Freeman, said as she stretched over to flick on the kettle.
A piercing alarm from our radios then shattered the calm of the room. The deafening siren continued to ring as the three officers stood frozen as if they were at the starting line of a race.
“Urgent assistance required on healthcare. Urgent assistance required on healthcare.”
They were off. The northern voice over the radio repeated its instructions, but the two officers standing nearby, Ms Hook and Ms Rot, did not need clarification, they knew where they were going. I stood with my heart pounding, overpowered by the screeching alarm from my radio. A lonely cigarette packet and lighter sat on the office desk.
“What are you waiting for? Go, go,” Ms Freeman barked at me.
I scrambled to the stairwell, where I joined an army of officers charging down the stairs. Not knowing where I was going, my main concern was not to get left behind as the wave of officers swung around corners and opened and closed gates. I followed the wave onto the prison’s mental health unit.
“Tornado, in the association room now,” ordered an officer.
I stepped to one side as the tallest, fittest, strongest, male officers made their way through the rest of us to the association room. In the background, I could hear what sounded like a party and women making merry. To my left, officers were putting on overalls and riot helmets as Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” could be heard in the distance. I shuffled against the wall, trying not to get in anyone’s way.
“Amber.” An overexcited Maria made me jump. “You’ll never guess what? Four prisoners have taken over the unit office and have taken one of the mental health nurses hostage. They’re in there now having a party, I think they have smuggled in alcohol. Tornado will take back control!”
“Tornado?” I asked.
“They’re specialist riot officers.”
Tornado then emerged from the unit association room. They wore the same overalls and riot helmets as the rest of the officers. Yet, they looked so different, powerful and unified. An officer that made me want to stand to attention and salute, led them out.
He had a square jaw and an old-fashioned look you only see in Disney films; respectable, like Prince Eric in the film Little Mermaid.
“That’s Senior Officer King. He’s a manager on Level 3, our Level, and I think he will be our manager.”
Mr King then turned his head to look at Maria and I. A rush of blood went to my brain.
“Why are you both not ready to go in” I stood mute.
“Sorry sir, it’s me and Amber’s first day. So, we were told just to observe,” Maria said.
Mr King stood tall at the end of the manic corridor that overflowed with officers that fell silent to listen to what he had to say. Most of what he said went over my head as I became entranced by his deep blue eyes and the energy of his voice. His feet rooted him to the floor like a strong oak tree, spread apart, but not too far apart. His fist clenched tight and punched forward as he spoke.
Like silent ninjas, a Tornado team led by Mr King approached the doors of the unit office that had been barricaded. The flash of light from the blowtorch went unnoticed by the prisoners as it cut through the wall of metal, office chairs and bedframes piled high. From the waist up, the safety glass exposed the scene of disorder in the office. Toilet paper decorated the large room. Cheers of joy went up as they destroyed HMP property. First, they ripped the unit Observation Book to shreds, then they cut up an HMP tracksuit. A prisoner, petite but well toned and with a gold tooth, called Ms Aziz led the ‘conga’ around a terrified nurse.
About the Author
Josie worked as a prison officer at Holloway Prison for many years and has a unique and specialist knowledge of how a prison is run. Josie likes writes about criminal justice system, politics, women’s issues and Black British history. Her work has been published with online political magazines a number of times. She is passionate about addressing the barriers that women of colour face.