Sunday in Cardiff, I went to a remembrance ceremony in a central park. The sun was shining brilliantly and everybody was incredibly respectful. About 5 people in front of me, I saw this massive butterfly land on this lady’s coloured striped jacket, and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed this butterfly. It was there for such a long time. Nobody said anything. She wouldn’t have known it was there. I think butterflies are sometimes invisible. They alight behind you and you don’t see them. I am never invisible. I am big and bold, and I flit about, and am colourful. I’ve given away a loads of beige stuff!
How did you become a prison governor?
I found myself doing a Psychology Degree in Hull, aiming to become an Educational Psychologist. I got involved with a social work group visiting a Borstal, then I also started to get interested in deviance. I wondered why people break the law. I had always been interested in why people break the law.
Most surprising event
Being a Domestic Abuse Volunteer. I wasn’t prepared for the joy and privilege that I feel working with victims of domestic abuse.
When were you first aware that women are treated differently?
I wasn’t aware of women being treated differently because I went to a very confident girls school, very empowering, and when I was in Primary I was a high achiever, so I was never really aware of boys or men. The same for University.
Then I joined one of the most macho institutions that you could ever imagine. The prison service, by definition, has to be quite male in that 95% of prisoners then, and now, are male.
Therefore, maleness is the predominant gender and most of the staff tend to be male. You enter a male world.
I don’t actually feel like a female, I am a just a Prison Governor or an Operator, because those are the skills and abilities that people are relating to. But having my children was a great and memorable achievement. Such a life-changing triumphal thing to do, and there were no negatives. Truly celebratory and joyful.
Is prison different for women?
This would be two days worth of seminars of difference, but to cut it down neatly.
Women’s prisons are in very short supply, and there are going to be even less of them soon. So you are more likely, as a family member of a woman prisoner, to have to travel a long way for visits. Take Swansea, for instance, if you’re female and sentenced in Swansea, you will be sent to a prison 70-80 miles away in England. As a male, you will probably be placed in prison just a mere 1.5 miles away. This geographical difference poses a very real problem; how to keep women prisoners supported by their family members, when they are incarcerated so far away, in a different country?
I have found that women react to being in prison in a very much more emotional way, and women staff also become emotional. So, the bringing of male staff into women’s prisons, and women staff into male prisons, has had a very healthy outcome. Prisoners have been able express themselves in a much more reasonable way. A bunch of men will not express themselves emotionally to each another. Female staff are able to get men to express their emotions and, conversely, male staff can go into women prisons and calm every thing down, a little bit.
When I say, “I’m going to do something”, I am committed and remain honest to that. It is very important, and something you learn on day one in prison. But, that can be very hard sometimes, because other things get in the way.
However, now that much of my work is with victims of domestic violence who are already feeling some ways very mistrustful, it is all the more important that they have someone they can trust to remain honest.
I also believe in the power of a smile. A smile has a positive effect on both the smiler, and the smiled at.
The most surprising event in your life?
As a Domestic Abuse Volunteer, I wasn’t prepared for the joy and privilege that I feel working with victims of domestic abuse.
Any significant men in your life?
Of course the men in my family, but I’ve met a lot of guys in the Prison Service who I‘ve really admired. Those people with exactly the right mix of quiet authority, personal bravery and brilliant instinct in dealing with very challenging situations. Then I came to the realisation that I would never be quiet, and I would never have what they have.
When a woman steps out and addresses a bunch of angry prisoners or 500 staff, it is naïve as a woman in authority, to not to realise that, for the receivers of your message, there are things going on in their mind; a range of other things going on.
Advice to young women.
1) I actually feel very strongly that women shouldn’t be encouraged to take up things that have been hitherto male domains, just because they’ve been male domains.
2) This whole thing of “you can’t have it all”, I would certainly say, “Just forget it; just go with the flow”. My children were my achievement, the final piece of the jigsaw of being a woman.
3) I would say, if you’re going to be true to yourself, follow something that makes your eyes shine, and you know it does, because you can feel your eyes shine when you’re talking about it or doing it.