Case study

Mofe — Prison officer

Employer
Unlocked

Mofe studied international relations at the University of Birmingham before doing the Unlocked programme to become a prison officer

What was a typical day like as a prison officer?

I’d get to the prison and have a formal briefing with the team. I would then facilitate morning activities with each of the prisoners such as education, gym, or different workshops. After lunch, I would continue to support their daily activities while maintaining a safe environment.

Throughout the day you would negotiate different tensions such as the problems they’d bring in from the outside and their mental health needs. Within all of this, you’re talking with the prisoners, building relationships and solving their problems, such as helping them communicate with their family.

You’re working in a team of four to eight officers to run a wing of 60 to 120 prisoners so it’s very fast-paced and you never know what the day will throw at you.

Being on the Unlocked programme meant that you might have a meeting with your mentor or some training. You’d also have regular study days and need to keep up to date on studies for your Masters.

What are you most proud of from your time as a prison officer?

What was key for me was the relationships that I built and the ways in which I worked to change the perception of what a prison officer is. It wasn’t me against them. It was me and them working to help them. Taking the time to have deep meaningful conversations and seeing the best in the prisoners. It was very important for me to help change the culture of what a prison officer is meant to be and do for a prisoner.

What were the challenges?

First, in terms of the prisoners, not everyone would be receptive to you trying to build relationships with them. I had to focus on breaking down the prisoner vs prison officer mindset.

More widely, prisons are tough places and, when you see prisoners returning multiple times, it can be hard to stay focused on that belief in change and rehabilitation. Sometimes colleagues did not have the same mentality, and this can make culture change very hard. At Unlocked we’re really pushed to think about what we can do today to fix the problems we can see so it’s a challenge but in best way.

How did working as a prison officer prepare you for the job you have now?

I’ve just started work as a management consultant. When I left university, this was probably more of the type of job I imagined doing but when I saw the Unlocked programme I loved the idea of getting some real frontline experience. It’s a leadership programme and working as a prison officer definitely gives you the opportunity to be a leader as well as developing a lot of soft skills which I can really use in any environment. Whether it be relationship building, leadership or teamwork. It gave me the capacity to understand how to deal with difficult conversations and make decisions under pressure. I’m currently working on a project that deals with prison technology. My knowledge of the prison system has helped significantly in understanding the dynamics of this project.

I definitely did not imagine being a prison officer when I was in my final year but I just loved the idea of Unlocked. I also found it reassuring that they had some great corporate links. I even did a work placement at PA Consulting while on the programme which allowed me to see how the public sector can link with that world.

What was the assessment process for Unlocked like?

It has changed slightly since I did it but these days you do a short situational judgement test and then a video interview. At every stage they’re trying to understand your motivations and to identify whether you have the key attributes like leadership and resilience. The assessment day is really fun. There was a group task and an interview where you are interviewed by a prison officer and an ex-prisoner which gives you a really good insight into the role. The most interesting bit was the role play where an actor plays the role of a prisoner and you have to walk into a situation. It’s designed to give you a real flavour of the job and it was definitely the most interesting assessment centre I attended. I also really liked the fact that, once you were offered a place, you got a chance to visit a prison so you could see the environment and make sure it was for you.

Find out more

Read about the Unlocked programme.