I’m an ex-prison officer. The ‘ex’ part of that statement is still pretty new. I was forced to leave the job because of the effect it began to have on my mental health. And although I was very aware of how my mind was failing to cope, it took me a while to realise the effect it was having on my body.
I forgot to look after myself for a long time. Being a prison officer, you put your body through a lot. One minute you’re scrapping with the best of them, the next you’re stuffing packets of biscuits down your gob whilst laughing with the colleagues who potentially just saved your neck. And then 5 minutes later you’re off again, sprinting towards God knows what. The everyday life of a prison officer is ultimately crazy. The number of situations, both good and heart-wrenchingly tragic that I found myself in, would write like a pack of fibs.
But it was knackering. It took a lot out of me. It is not a healthy working environment, and it is not a healthy lifestyle. Because of the hours and the intensity of the job, I had no social life. I struggled to find the energy to go to the gym or to eat properly. Days off were purely about trying to get enough sleep to make the next shift do-able and getting laundry done. The overall effect of this was that I lost a lot of who I was outside of my job. And this ultimately cost me a loving relationship and a great partner.
It’s been a real challenge finding who I am after the Prison Service. I have to reconnect with my body all over again. I’m taking life slowly at the moment. I do a lot of sleeping and a lot of crying. It's taking longer than I thought to recuperate - I never thought I would find myself so crippled by a job.
But I’m taking the time, every day, to recognise myself. I found real power in my work, but my strength lies in who I am, not in my career. I am so, so proud of myself. I was really good at my job. And if I can do that, I’m pretty sure I can do anything I fucking want.