HMP Swaleside will be exhibiting at this year’s Kent County Show for the first time. Michael, one of their officers, recently did an interview to give us more information about being a Prison Officer.
NAME: Michael Alexander
LOCATION: Swale, Kent
When did you join the team at HMP Swaleside?
I joined HMP Swaleside in 2018 after an interview, a maths test, a fitness test and the mandatory 12-weeks training. When I joined the service, I was welcomed in by a brilliant team of really inspiring people. They have all made it their life mission to help protect the public, and rehabilitate offenders, helping them gain useful experience that they can use in life after prison.
What have you done since joining HMP Swaleside?
After performing duties on Alpha wing for just under 3 years, which was more of a challenging environment, I progressed to work in the Profiling Team. My role involved creating a timetable for the prison, detailing the regime and assigning tasks to Officers and various departments and services. Soon afterwards the global pandemic began. I was then deployed to be part of the Covid-19 team and was given the task of preventing an outbreak within the establishment through regular testing whilst also ensuring the men were being treated with humanity. Post pandemic I was successful in obtaining a position on Foxtrot which is a specialist PIPE unit, dealing with men who suffer from personality disorders.
What is your role at HMP Swaleside?
Last year I was promoted to New Colleague Mentor and Staff Ambassador. My role involves attending universities, colleges, schools, job fairs and other events in Kent to educate and attract new recruits to the prison service. I also help them settle into their new role and provide ongoing support with career development. On top of this I welcome and meet and greet any visitors and dignitaries to the establishment and give them a tour of the grounds. Essentially I represent HMP Swaleside externally.
What did you do prior to joining HMP Swaleside?
I was working as the Team Leader of the Learning & Behaviour Mentoring Team in a secondary school in the East Midlands. I made the move to Kent after meeting my partner and while looking into jobs in the area, I realised I had so many transferable skills that would stand me in good stead as a prison officer. I’d like to think I’m a good communicator and an approachable person, I’m patient and understanding and I have empathy while also being firm when setting boundaries.
Parallel to the above, having the patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations is paramount. Being thorough, attention to detail and flexibility is also imperative. Displaying and demonstrating excellent leadership and verbal communication skills, whether it’s working independently, alongside colleagues or with inmates, is an indispensable in being able to direct or de-escalate a task or incident.
Prison officers are often unfairly labelled, and people think we simply lock and unlock doors for a living. People rarely take the time to delve into the specifics of what the job entails and the emotional skills required to be a prison officer. I’m proud of the work I do at HMP Swaleside and would welcome anyone to come and chat to us to find out what jobs are on offer.
What are you doing at the Kent County Show?
For the first time ever prison officers, OSGs (operational support grades), dog handlers, fitness instructors and caterers from HMP Swaleside are going to be on site at the Kent County Showground to meet and chat with members of the public. As a team we’re thrilled about the prospect of potentially finding some fantastic candidates for some of the exciting jobs we have on offer.
Unlike other frontline workers, such as the police or NHS, the majority of people won’t have met a prison officer and have no idea what it’s like working inside a prison. It’s something that often comes up when we speak to people who might be considering the role.
As well as branded stress balls, notepads, pens and reusable coffee cups, we’re also going to have specialist virtual reality (VR) headsets. The idea behind the VR headsets is to give potential applicants a chance to look around, see and hear exactly what it’s like behind those prison walls. The headset allows you to walk up and down the wings, stand inside a cell, meet a prisoner and see what the kitchen staff are preparing for lunch.
We think it’s a brilliant and creative way to give those who are considering a career with the prison service a chance to nosey around. We hope it’ll dispel any negative myths around prison work and get the right person excited about the prospect of working with us.
We’re going to be located in the Edward Hardy Avenue on stand 139 so please do come and see us.
What are you most looking forward to about the Kent County Show?
As I’m originally from the East Midlands I haven’t actually attended the Kent County Show before so it’s hugely exciting for me. For us as a team it’ll be a fantastic way to introduce ourselves to lots of new people who may not necessarily know what we do or what kind of roles are on offer throughout the prison service.
There’s so much on offer I’m really looking forward to taking a walk around the Showground and checking out some of the food trucks and trade stands.
On Friday I’m hoping to get the chance to check out some of the show jumping and Sheep Dog Display. On Saturday I plan to head to the Bandstand to see some of the live music, such as John Dogrell and the Bad Poets and Velvet Noise. And finally on Sunday, I’m really looking forward to the Grand Parade in the Livestock Area. I’m hoping that we have some really great weather across the weekend as that’ll make it extra special and I’ll get to enjoy some ice cream!
How can people find out more about working at HMP Swaleside?
It is so important that we have people from all backgrounds across the South East who can be positive role models for the prisoners here. It can be challenging, but it’s also hugely rewarding, and there’s no shortage of support and guidance.
Officers help to maintain safety standards on the inside, while also ensuring ex-offenders leave with the skills and experience they need to live crime free lives on the outside. It is a rewarding role that allows you to work with a diverse group of prisoners and staff, developing a wide range of both practical and interpersonal skills.
To begin with, depending on your contracted hours, you could earn up to £30,000 when you start, as well as a full range of benefits including great training, opportunities for career development, 25 days annual leave plus bank holidays (pro rata where applicable), civil service pension and annual season ticket loan.
To find out more visit https://prisonandprobationjobs.gov.uk or come and see us at the Kent County Show.