“If you don’t mind me asking, Chloe, how much are they paying you?” asked the woman I was replacing, as we sat in a cubicle constructed by short, clinical office dividers that seperated the very divided departments. These dividers would later become the perfect perch for my senior colleagues eyes to peer over and prowl on one’s ass. “Ah, yes,” she said, “they must pay me more”.
2 years ago almost to the day, on 23rd March 2015, I had my first day working in prison and my Dad was due to land from England for his first visit to New Zealand. Here I was learning about ‘Offender Management’ one afternoon and cooking up cockles caught in Kawa Kawa Bay the next.
The blindingly bright signals telling me to run from this prison were everywhere, and they started from the offset with the HR Manager asking, during my interview, if I was pregnant. Or, if I planned on becoming pregnant anytime soon… She let out a little giggle to show us all that this was just a mere joke. How we chuckled. It didn’t cross my mind that HR shouldn’t ask this and that it is actually illegal.
A comment on pregnancy was not a big deal for me; I don’t exactly have a delicate or sensitive disposition. This small snippet, however, was added to other snippets and they quickly grew into a lasting, huge collage showing a company run on self-interest, manipulation, and back stabbing bureaucracy.
Here I was on my way to the units, on my first tour, being given an education on the the level of difficulty found in each unit. On the hardest, a gang member started barking at me, “woof, grrrr, woof, woof,” through the glass door, that separated the two of us, like a rottweiler. He subsequently set off all the other little human rottweilers around the unit, and so here I stood in a harmonic montage of human barking. “They’re letting the others know there’s fresh meat on the units,” she said. All I could do was stare at him long enough to let him know that it wasn’t an issue he wanted to be a dog. Dream big! I thought. I had no choice but to carry on with my conversation as if he just vanished into thin air.
When one chap made me a rap, mainly with the lyrics “suck my balls, miss,” I had to turn away to the wall as I found his rap quite funny. But, smiling is not allowed on the units, and nor should I have been smiling – let’s be honest. Instead of laughing, I started to adopt an emotionless mask that sadly began to follow me home. Adopting a persona that is not your own to pretend to be a hard-bitch in fear of niceness being mistaken for weakness is very hard to just take off at the turn of a key.
Similarly, within a few months I wondered to the units alone, and had a group of 20 or so prisoners tattooed from head to toe stampede like wilder beasts behind me on their way back from class. They were kicking and punching the walls shouting “we’re coming for you, miss.” Having faith in these men that they wouldn’t ‘come for me’, I stood up straight, didn’t look back, and carried on walking as if they weren’t there.
We had recently been told stories during hostage training of the kidnappings and rape of female staff in other prisons and I knew not to be stupid enough to think that I was indestructible. For a second I walked and thought that this genuinely could be it, but I sensed that it wouldn’t be. The guys soon caught up with me and walked along side of me asking, “are you having a nice day, miss?” What more can you say except “my day was going alright until you lot turned up,” and how we all laughed!
When they turned off down a separate corridor, I walked back to the office shaking, had my manager sit me down and tell me “men are here to protect you” and then locked myself in the toilet and cried.