15 Not out- Prison Officer recalls time in the Prison Service

After almost 15 years serving in various capacities in her profession, Trade Instructor of the Mazaruni Prison recalls her astonishing experience as a woman prison officer.

33-year-old Tiffany Jones, originally from the hinterland gateway town of Bartica, began her stint in the prison service in 2006, as part of the first batch of ‘work study’ students to ever be attached to the prison. During her work-study tenure and at the tender age of 17, Jones recognized that her purpose could only be found in rendering her services to the incarcerated.

Upon our visit to the penitentiary in Mazaruni, the Big Smith News Watch sat down with Jones as she reminisced her 15-year career, and the trials she faced in the occupation.

In her first 7 years in the occupation, the 33-year-old professional spent most of her work time in the office, and not directly interacting with prisoners. These, she said, were formative but vital years. “I was exposed to the office, and the responsibility of writing up records, and basic record management of the Mazaruni Prison,” Jones detailed.

Currently, however, Jones has taken up a different role within the prison system. This role, she opines, has become a far more significant role for her. Jones currently oversees the training programs and classes that prisoners are now afforded the opportunity to be involved in. In her own capacity, Jones teaches four different classes – Arts and Craft, Psychology, Anger Management, and Basic Literacy.

When asked about what she believes is the most exciting part of her job, even though there are many misconceptions about the work of prison, Jones said that her main focus and motivating factor is being an inspiration. “I always wanted to have done something that persons can look at and be astonished. Not only astonished [about] the fact that it was done by a prison officer, but because I have trained [an inmate] and it was done by them,” Jones explained.

Jones recalled a program hosted by the Guyana Prison Service (GPS) that showcased the handiwork of the prisoners housed at the Mazaruni Prison, the same holding facility Jones is stationed at. During this program, the art and craft of the prisoners whom she teaches and oversees were displayed to the likes of the British High Commissioner and other dignitaries at the event.

Her excitement, she says, came from being able to mould someone who had no knowledge and skill in the art and craft industry to being able to display his work and receiving commendation from the dignitaries in attendance.

“People were astonished to know that from a point of not knowing to paint, he can reach to a point where that was the piece of art that sold first. So that was a great excitement for me,” Jones said.

The mother of two explained as well that her high level of pride in her job stems from being able to teach inmates, some who have never seen the inside of a classroom, how to read and write.

Speaking about what she believes are basic misconceptions about the prison system, Jones denounced many of the myths that the general public may have of what happens behind the walls of a correctional facility.

“Persons would say ‘yuze a prison officer? You ain’t frighten them prisoners?’…they would want to drive this kind of fear in you…but when you are actually in the environment you want to know what these people are really talking about,” Jones noted.

Jones explained that the fear that she initially had upon her commencement of the job eventually eroded after different experiences taught her how to maneuver mentally.

To conclude, Jones expressed her belief that she has never felt lesser than within the prison system because of gender. Rather, she believes that female prison officers can have just as much control over the inmates as the males. “…we can generally do the same job as the males in terms of command and controlling the inmates…I think we can do a better job than them,” she said firmly.

Though she highlighted that being a woman among mostly men has opened the door for inappropriate remarks from time to time, Jones believes that she has earned so much respect from the inmates that the prisoners would even correct each other from time to time if they step out of line. “You would hear other prisoners…would turn and correct them,” she pointed out.

Jones currently serves as the Trade Instructor at the prison and calls on the prison service to continue to bring the positive engagements of inmates to the forefront.