With HM Prison Service undertaking a major recruitment drive, Derrick Faulkner relates how he traded a career in media for a life on the landings and why he hasn’t looked back.

FOR most people, changing careers can seem like a challenge. Yet for Derrick Faulkner, who swapped a 16-year career in media sales to start work as a prison officer, the opportunity represented a chance to have the meaningful career he had always wanted.

Having never set foot in a prison and being used to working in a corporate environment, it was a dramatic shift of direction for the 43-year-old.

Two and a half years on, Derrick has been promoted to the position of supervising officer and has absolutely no regrets: “I applied to join the prison service because I wanted to do something different and to challenge myself. I also wanted to make a difference.”

Derrick, like many officers who join the service, found his previous job unfulfilling and wanted to find a role where he could make an impact on society. “I wanted to help society through the rehabilitation of offenders. I’m so glad I took the plunge.”

How do you become a prison officer?

His career change, Derrick explains, was made easier through the “straightforward” application process.

The application process currently involves taking an online test, a prison familiarisation tour and attending a Recruitment Assessment Day.

Physical fitness levels and eyesight are also checked before a provisional offer is made subject to vetting procedures.

When speaking about the essential qualities needed to be a prison officer, Derrick describes how he often deals with “different prisoners” and “different queries”, which require the ability to “empathise” and “understand the issues” prisoners are going through.

As a role model and mentor interpersonal skills are an important requirement of the role.

What do you do as a prison officer?

Derrick is now based in Wormwood Scrubs, an all-male Category B facility that can hold up to 1,279 men.

The prison is divided into five main wings and comprises a first night centre, healthcare centre, and drug detox unit.

Speaking about what first drew him to Wormwood Scrubs and life as a prison officer, Derrick describes the fast-paced nature of the role and how everyday can be different.

“The role is so varied, it’s unreal”, Derrick explains, and although there is a set structure to each day at Wormwood Scrubs, the work can be incredibly diverse.

“We start work in the morning at 7.45am. There’s a 15-minute briefing from the senior officer on the wing and we then unlock for what we call 'activity'. Some prisoners, for example, might have visits from family and friends. There may be other prisoners that go off to work within the prison or to use the gym or for education.”

Prison officers also supervise “association” which, as Derrick explains, is when prisoners on a certain floor are let “out on the wing for roughly about an hour to make phone calls, have showers, or have a chat with other prisoners.”

Derrick adds: “That’s what typically happens on a core day but there’s so much else that can happen.”

It seems there is no ordinary day in the life of being a prison officer.

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

Rehabilitation and the modern prison service

Re-offending remains a key issue in the justice system and prison officer’s play an important role in tackling this problem.

Rehabilitation is at the core of the prison service and prison officers will act as mentors and role models to offenders to try and change their lives for the better.

Discussing the rehabilitation process Derrick emphasises that it is not a prison officer’s job to punish offenders but to “actually help them while they are in prison so they become a better person”. 

Whether it’s enrolling prisoners on educational courses or helping them register at the library, prison officers can help give prisoners the skills they need to become law-abiding citizens.

The ability to have a transformative impact on someone’s life is something that Derrick finds particularly meaningful. “We’re all about trying to give prisoners purposeful activity. They want to be doing something purposeful”.

While the role incorporates a custodial element, a prison officer’s job primarily involves interacting with and helping prisoners.

Prison officers assist prisoners with all aspects of their life behind bars, explained Derrick, including helping them get in contact with their families and preparing them for life after prison.

Prison officers may also assist with helping prisoners find a place to live and setting up a bank account upon their release.

Officers have the chance to get involved in many different areas and help tackle a range of issues such as substance abuse and mental health issues.

For Derrick, this is by far the most rewarding part of the role.

What does it take to be a good prison officer?

Sometimes prison officers can face tough challenges: “I had a situation the other day where a prisoner’s family came to visit him, but he had been put on closed visits so was in a cubicle and didn’t understand why. In that situation you have to be able to calm the prisoner down, get the situation under control then go back out into the visitors’ hall and carry on with what you were doing before.  That sort of resilience and being able to bounce back after an event or set-back is crucial.”

Nevertheless, he added that the support prison officers give each other as a team help overcome these challenges.

“We work as a team 100 per cent on the unit, I’ve got brilliant team, they are outstanding.”

Teamwork is established early on in a prison officer’s career with successful candidates undertaking prison officer entry level training (POELT), a 10-week training course at the Prison Service College in Rugby or a local POELT training centre, alongside other officers.

Despite the challenges prison officers face, Derrick says he would recommend the job to anyone wanting a rewarding and varied role with great career progression.

It is a role where hard work talent is rewarded: “It’s a service that does recognize hard work and achievement and wants to promote from within because that is how you motivate people and keep good staff.”

If you’re interested in working as a prison officer, visit www.prisonandprobationjobs.gov.uk and search for vacancies or search for prison officer job online.