Your Questions Answered
Diary of a Prison Officer
What issues dose the book raise?
There are a number of challenging issues and themes that come up in the novel.
As the book title suggest the book is set in a women’s prison. The reason why women are imprisoned, their treatment in prison and whether the prison system is working is looked at throughout the book.
The novel is centred around three Black women and their experiences. How these three women deal with discrimination in the criminal justice system, in the workplace and in the community is explored as a theme.
The main character, Amber Campbell, goes on a backpacking trip through Africa to find love. What she learns makes her rethink her beliefs and her identity.
Did the things in the book really happen?
I worked as a prison officer for many years and most of the stories in the novel really happened.
One story I remember vividly is when a prisoner had managed to store up two weeks’ worth of excrement in a bucket under her bed. One morning she came out of her cell with the bucket and went on the rampage.
The sad thing was that it was clear that the prisoner had been in need of significant mental health support for some time, but the prison was not equipped to support her.
Are all the people in the book real?
This is a fictional novel so I’ve drawn on many different inspirations to create the majority of my characters.
Discrimination in the workplace is a strong theme in the book, why?
I could have just written a novel about being a prison officer, and I think that would have made a very interesting read. But I wanted to show that discrimination is everywhere.
In such frontline jobs people of colour, in particular, have to deal with direct racist abuse from service users and indirect discrimination that comes from the employer.
Why does your main character go to Africa?
Amber takes an emotional journey that dares to go off the beaten track in order to uncover African history and culture.
She explores village life in Zambia and the customs of tribes such as the Bushmen in the South and the Maasi in the East.
“I realise now that I was totally unprepared for the journey that lay ahead. Both physically and mentally. Questions that I had never asked myself before were now swilling around in my head. Thoughts and beliefs that were once concrete were now being questioned. This journey turned into a search for information and truth; a journey in which I discovered African culture and a deeper understanding of my own identity.”
What was the hardest thing you found writing the novel?
I wanted to tell a fictional story about friendship, love and holding on to your dreams, at the same time I wanted to explore some very challenging issues head on.
I hope that I’ve found the balance.
The novel is set in 2003, do you think the issues are still relevant today?
High levels of violence against prison officers and the failure of the prison system to rehabilitate offenders are still problems that are with us today.
Discrimination in the workplace is also still stopping people from moving forward with their careers and leading full lives.