“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, as I told her reluctantly with a naive desire to be liked, “they must just pay me more”.
The blinding signals telling me to run from this prison were everywhere from day one, 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.
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 being given an education on what units were problematic. 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 other human rottweilers around the unit, and I found myself in a harmonic montage of human barking.
“He’s from the Mongrel Mob. He’s letting the others know that there’s fresh meat on the units,” she said. All I could do was stare at this animal long enough to make him feel that it was ok to dream big and if being a dog was what he aspired to be, then good for him.
Then a Headhunter made me a rap, mainly with the lyrics “suck my balls, miss.” 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 was wondering 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, as they stampeded behind me, I thought this genuinely could be it, but I sensed that it wouldn’t be – they’re very bored. The guys soon caught up with me and walked along side asking, “are you having a nice day, miss?” “Well”, I said, “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 that “men are here to protect you,” only to have him put his hand just close enough to mine for me to feel it but for no one else to see it (‘with a lack of malicious intent’ according to the report 6 months later) and I locked myself in the toilet and cried.