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Quite some years ago I worked in a prison. A Maximum Security Male Prison. As a female Officer, I had this crazy idea that I could make a difference. 

It was a new prison. State of the Art. A wonder of technology.

Before the prison actually opened, we arrived at work and were greeted with the announcement that we were to be separated into two groups for training purposes. Half of us were to be Prison Officers and the other half would be prisoners.

And that day changed my life. I became a prisoner. For ONE DAY. 

The friends that I had made at training school became my enemies. We prisoners were suddenly transformed into people without identity or anything other than a surname. We were stripped of our sense of self and plunged into a world of the unknown. For one day.

I remember very clearly having to take off my uniform and dress in the prison brown. It was fun, amusing, a game. I laughed with my friends who had been selected for the role of prisoner and we farewelled our friends from the other side and waited to see what would happen.

In my opinion, in 1996, this was one of the greatest travesties that ever occurred in Queensland, Australia. A day when we were used as guinea pigs in some sort of experiment that went terribly terribly wrong.

No one has ever talked about the day that Prison created a training exercise that turned into an horrific, social, emotional and mental disaster.

No, it was never talked about.

The day started quite normally and we were separated into our two groups. Fellow Officers filed off to one side and we filed off to the other.

We laughed and joked as we changed into our prisoner clothes.  Even our psychologists  had to take part, as did our Social Workers.

But something happened. As we became prisoners, our guards became heavy handed. As we emerged from “ prisoner processing “ our former friends became very arrogant.



At first we smiled and laughed but when they did not respond we were confused. How was the guy who ate breakfast with us a few hours ago suddenly treating us like crap? But when we said “ come on, it’s just a game, “ the person who was once our friend did not appreciate our replies. We were put in to a major breach situation and subjected to what would have been 30 days in detention.  We were treated very badly. Even though it only lasted for a day.

But it was a bad day.

 I fortunately escaped the breach and was allowed to go through processing to the compound.

A young psychologist had been grabbed by some “ prisoners “ and held in a cell.  They laughed and threatened to rape her. She was terrified. She never returned after this social experiment.  It brought the best out of us and the worst on us all.

She was held prisoner by prison officers posing as prisoners and they thought it was fun. She did not. 

The ‘officers’ stripped searched us and , at the end of the day, I left that place having experienced the worst day of my life. I came home with no energy. No emotion. I was empty. It was, yes,  the worst day of my life.

We were humiliated by our once friends. We were subjected to abuse, Our so called friends were no longer " one of us"

The next day we returned to work. All those that were officers sat in their space. All of us, the “ prisoners” sat in our space.

For the entire time I worked at that prison, I never sat with, spoke with or had anything to do with any of the people I used to call colleagues who were “ Officers “. We were divided. Nor did we speak with those "prisoners " who threatened to rape that young lady. 

Our once united front became a broken creation. Those that bullied us and those that were bullied.

It changed the dynamic of the prison when the inmates arrived. The people who were “officers “ that day became more emboldened and those of us who had been “ prisoners “ empathised. We never worked as a cohesive unit again.

We were divided. We never sat together again and never ate together again.

One day changed us forever.

I have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress ever since. I felt safer with the prisoners than I did with my fellow officers. Not once were we offered debriefing, counselling or support. 

Just an end of shift and come back tomorrow for work. And we did. 

We turned up and tried to work, in spite of the day that had made us divided. 

I actually felt more safety with the murderers and rapists and drug dealers than I did working with the people I used to call my friends.

We went through a riot shortly afterwards. The place was set on fire. The electronic gates failed. Fury and alcohol induced anger took over. 

You cannot imagine what it is like to see 1000 hardened criminals surging towards you, fuelled with anger and home made booze. And you are standing there, alone. Thinking what the hell can I do?

Knowing that you can do nothing except stand your ground and hope like hell that you can do something, anything, to stop them from killing you.

I fronted up the next day and spent several weeks working 12 hour shifts in stinking filth of faeces and rotten food, swirling around my feet and coming home and trying to wash the stench of decay from my body. I worked in that cess pit for a weeks.  

It taught me that ONE day can change your life. ONE YEAR can change your life. ONE EVENT can change your life. 

I have never been the same since my year at that prison in the year that it opened and the riot happened.

I became very quiet and socially isolated. I never laughed in public again as I used to. I closed down. My family could not understand how I changed.

From being fun loving and outgoing I became a recluse. I socially distanced myself.

So today, social distancing is easy for me. I have held people at arms length more many years.

All because of one day in a prison when I was treated as a prisoner.

I have to ask: Am I back in that place?

Locked up?

As a now older person, in the vulnerable group, why do I feel so angry about this imposed isolation " for my safety?"

Why is it that I am so furious when I see young people flaunting their youth and laughing at us and letting us know that we will be the last for the ventilators should the shit hit the fan? 

Most importantly, I can no longer stand bullying from Police, Politicians, Main Stream Media or anyone else. 

We are at a turning point in our countries, much like the prison I worked at. Division or Unity? Are we together or merely pawns in a game we do not understand?

A Social Experiment? The Police are currently testing our beliefs.  Are they the bullies from the prison? The ones that found some inner " nasty?"  

The Police are looking like the Bully Boys. 

My concern is that the Police will become the enemy as a result of this. Will we become divided from the Good? Or will it just become Bad and Ugly?

We still need to remember

Where One goes, We go all. And that is what was ignored in 1996. When we are divided we are weak. Division is dangerous. 

Someone has unleashed the Guards.


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