Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Varied Jobs with a Daily Dose of Porridge; Just the Job: Riots, Suicides, Overcrowding, Lord Archer ... It Seems Prisons Are Rarely out of the News. but Who Are the People Who Work There and Why Have They Chosen an Environment Many of Us Would Steer Clear of? Greg Watts Reports

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Varied Jobs with a Daily Dose of Porridge; Just the Job: Riots, Suicides, Overcrowding, Lord Archer ... It Seems Prisons Are Rarely out of the News. but Who Are the People Who Work There and Why Have They Chosen an Environment Many of Us Would Steer Clear of? Greg Watts Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: GREG WATTS

OPENED in 1992, HMP High Down, in Sutton, is classified as a "category A local prison". Its 740 inmates are looked after and patrolled by a staff of around 510, and they come from many and varied backgrounds.

When Iona Head left school to train as a hairdresser the last place she thought she would end up working was inside a prison. As instructional officer, NVQ hairdressing, she runs the school of hairdressing in the education block. Having run her own hairdressing business and trained hairdressers for a large company, she felt she wanted to teach the subject but met obstacles along the way.

"I'd applied to colleges but they wouldn't accept me because I didn't have a teaching qualification. And when I came here I just had a bare room. My brief was to change it into an accredited centre for City and Guilds in just five weeks," she explains, adding that the prison sponsored her to obtain the Certificate of Education.

She offers inmates the opportunity to gain an NVQ level two, which will act as the basic entry qualification to be a barber or stylist when they have done their time.

"A lot of men say they wanted to be a hairdresser when they were 18, but they didn't pursue it because they were either not supported or they thought they would be made fun of," says Head.

As part of their training, her students cut the hair for other inmates and members of staff. "The students here really do want to learn. They wouldn't keep doing their homework if they didn't. They are very motivated and determined."

Before joining the prison service as a van driver, Derek Pryce, 38, was a bus driver for 12 years. In October he began training as a prison officer.

"The main reason I joined the prison service was to be an officer but, because I didn't have the required five O-levels, I became a category A driver instead," he says.

"I worked as an 'operational support grade', on the gate, in reception and in the security department. These jobs gave me a good insight into the work of a prison officer."

He says that working in a prison offers a lot of variety and good career prospects.

"People think that working in a prison is all doom, gloom and violence. I explain to them that it's nothing like that at all. As a prison officer you have good promotional prospects and the option of working in other prisons around the country."

So how does he find working with the prisoners?

"I see prisoners as people," he says, "just the same as me. Obviously they've committed some type of crime, and my job is to try to help them.

"You can sometimes see why a prisoner has turned out the way he has."

Catering manager Ewan Lindsy, 39, has 14 inmates working with him in the kitchen. "I was a bit suspicious of the inmates in the kitchen at first but I enjoy working with the team I have," he says. …

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