Hello and welcome to another installment of our career series ’24 Hours In The Life Of’, in which we follow different women in the UK for a day (or a night) at work.
This month we’re talking to Jessica* who is a prison nurse. Jessica* is 31 and has been qualified as a nurse for over a decade, but only landed her role working in prisons earlier in 2021. She has a degree in Adult Nursing and has previously worked in both respiratory and general medicine. She works 12-hour shifts – five days one week and two the next.
This is what a day in her life looks like…
6.30am: “I am awoken before my alarm goes off by a toddler’s foot to my face after he’s managed to wriggle his way, unbeknownst to me, into my bed. By 6:45am I’m showered and dressed in black trousers and navy tunic. I stuff my pens in my pocket, neck a smoothie (made the night before as not to wake the sleeping babes) and stuff a packed lunch and various snacks into my bag. I head back upstairs, smooch the sleeping babes and husband then head off to work.”
7.15am: “I cycle to work which gives me both the time to wake up (fresh air and exercise get the blood pumping) and 15 minutes of headspace.”
7.30am: “I arrive at work, put on my prison belt (key chain, pouch, ID and radio holder) and enter reception. Entering work isn’t as simple as stepping through the door when you work in a prison. We have to enter via the main gate, lock away electronic devices and any another contraband, pass through security, grab a radio and sign out keys. After entering the gate, I head through approximately six thousand gates to ‘healthcare’ where the nursing team and the GP are based. I arrive just minutes before my start time of 8am.”
8am: “We start the day with handover from the night staff; it’s essentially a chance to grab a cuppa, raid the work biscuit box and catch up with the team and prison staff. By 8:30am I’m in the office printing my list of prisoners to review for various complaints; a man reporting chest pain which happens to coincide with an impending transfer to a less appealing prison, a dressing change following a recent discharge from hospital and a post-sentencing welfare check.”
11am: “I’ve spent the morning out on the wings. I carry a paramedic style backpack full of various medical supplies; it’s like our Mary Poppins bag of tricks but does make me feel like somewhat of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (it’s bulky, big and green). I head back to Healthcare to type up notes from the various tasks I’ve carried out already.”
“I’ve seen a guy named Sam*, who was recently sentenced to 25 years for murder. He reports to be feeling low in mood. I refer him to mental health and we open up a protection plan that means wing staff will check on him regularly; he’s happy with this plan.”
“I’ve also reviewed Idris*, a new arrival who came to us via hospital and required a dressing change after sustaining a burn to his back. He reports it was self inflicted, an accident with his kettle in his cell. He’s requesting pain relief. He has a history of drug abuse, so I request the GP to review and decide the best course of action.”
“And finally, I’ve seen George, an elderly gent who is reporting to have chest pain. It’s angina and a few puffs of his GTN medication alleviates the pain and I fit him for transfer out to a different prison, much to his disgust.”
“Our roles within the team vary and depends on the allocation. We split the prison in half and one nurse sees the wings on one half of the prison whilst the other nurse sees the other half. I’d love to know how many steps I do a day!”
11.30am: “My computer had barely loaded ready for me to write up my notes, when my radio blares CODE BLUE. That’s not a good sign. I grab my backpack and radio, leave my tea to go cold and head over to the wing. Code blue is an emergency relating to lack of airway; anything from anaphylactic shock to hanging. It’s Sam*, the guy I saw earlier – and he’s attempted to take his own life. Staff have found him in time, he’s tearful and frightened. He’s placed on constant watch and I leave him with mental health once I know his observations are OK. COVID has meant that prisoners are locked away for 23 out of 24 hours; that’s an awful amount of time to think/overthink.”
1.30pm: “I’ve missed my allocated lunch break, so I grab my sarnies from the fridge and swig from the mug of tea a colleague has kindly plonked in front of me. It’s important to be part of a good team in this line of work – I’m lucky to have them.”
1.45pm: “It’s time to head off to reception to meet our latest arrivals. Vans from various local courts are already lining up; it’s a busy one today. A domestic, who is one of our enhanced prisoners working in reception, brings me a cup of coffee and a slice of prison issue lemon cake. New prisoners are screened by healthcare to ensure they are fit to be detained and to identify any health concerns. I really enjoy this part of my job; such a varied character enter my office. There are the repeat offenders who, for them, the prison is home. Then there’s the first timers, either cock-sure of themselves playing Mr Big, or teary-eyed and terrified. Through effective communication, I am able to ensure that their healthcare needs are identified and that support, of various levels, is planned for.”
“The thing I love most about what I do is the variety. From wound care to cardiac arrests, from a mental health crisis to tooth abscess, I see it all and there’s no telling how each day is going to go. I look after murderers, fraudsters, sex offenders and the rest. They need medical care and I provide this the best I can, without bias in a difficult environment. It’s rewarding and different and I feel privileged to be in the role I am. They’ve already been judged by the court, judge and jury, they don’t need me to judge them too.”
7.45pm: “I meet the last new arrival and the final countdown to home time begins. I exit via the gate, returning my keys and radio, before going through the scanner to collect my mobile phone. I call home, tell my husband to whack the dinner on and run me a bath.”
8.30pm: “I’m usually home around the same time, unless there’s been an emergency. I step through the door and Spaghetti bolognaise is handed to me in one hand and in the other I’m given a glass of something cold and alcoholic (usually wine, sometimes gin). Needed and welcomed!”
10pm: “I’m often in bed with some cheesy, easy-watching romcom or Netflix documentary on the telly. I guarantee the opening credits don’t even finish before my eyes are shut…”
*Names have been changed to protect identities
You can read more in our ’24 Hours In The Life Of Series’ here.