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Officer Byfield-Johnson, prison officer at HMP Pentonville
Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you’re a London prison officer

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…according to Officer Byfield-Johnson, 38.

Verbal abuse is the toughest part…

‘When prisoners come in, we explain that we’re not police and we’re here to support them. But some still disrespect us, calling us “screw” or “kangaroo”. We even get it with the public: if I’m going out to lunch I have to make sure I don’t have my epaulettes on, because some people will shout “screw” as soon as they see the uniform. When I first started, it upset me, but you learn to balance it – plus we have support from a care team.’

…but prison work isn’t as intimidating as it first appears

‘When you’re on the other side of the fence you think: Oh no, it’s a prison, code red! But we work together as a team and there’s a good work-life balance. The hours help me get the kids off to school and pick them up.’

Pentonville Prison has some unique rehabilitation schemes

‘There are courses in street food where they train prisoners up to be chefs, which helps them outside with jobs. There’s a Pentonville newspaper called Voice of the Ville and a course to help prisoners with writing skills. We also run courses in barbering and gym instruction.’

Officers are a vital support network

‘I had a guy on my wing with three weeks to go and he said: “Ms Johnson, I’ve got nowhere to live.” I went to the housing team and by the time he was due to go home, everything was in place: somewhere to live, NA and AA, his benefits sorted out. It’s coming up to a year now and I haven’t seen him back.’

Prison dramas may be inaccurate, but they’re solid entertainment

‘I always get told off by my husband, who says “You work in a prison – why are you watching ‘Bad Girls’?” It’s just entertainment for us, really. It’s a totally different world.’

See more about jobs in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service.

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