“Sometimes I am so disoriented that I don’t even know what day of the week it is, to be honest. One shift is usually 12 hours. Sometimes we work 36 or 48 hours; but most times it is 24 hours.
“If no relief is sent for me when I’m done working, then I have to work another shift…”
Wired868 highlights the day-to-day lives of everyday Trinbagonians in our ongoing series entitled: ‘A day in the life…’ Today, we talk to a security guard contracted to a government-related firm:
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Well, I was born in 1966 at my parents’ home. Long ago most people my age were born under their parents’ house or by the neighbour. I grew up in a large family. My father died when I was young so my mother was left with the responsibility to take care of us. I had the opportunity to attend school and got as far as secondary education and then I started to work.
I didn’t have the push or motivation otherwise I would have reached further than secondary school. I held down my first job for almost 17 years. When I got my second job I got married and started a family; and, well, the rest is history. [Laughs]
I have four beautiful girl children. Two are married and two live with me and my wife.
How long have you been employed as a security officer at this firm?
I have been employed at this security firm for the past three years. Before I became a security officer, I worked for a company where I started as a labourer and worked my way up to an assistant foreman. I worked at that position until they closed down. Then I worked taxi for a couple of years, and then I got a security/handyman job at a prominent high school.
What are your hours of work like?
Sometimes I am so disoriented that I don’t even know what day of the week it is, to be honest. One shift is usually 12 hours. Sometimes we work 36 or 48 hours; but most times it is 24 hours. If no relief is sent for me when I’m done working, then I have to work another shift.
When the supervisor makes the roster, it doesn’t change. Sometimes I work on Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Christmas Day or even Boxing Day. At times, I would request to my supervisor for my family to come spend the day with me if it falls on my birthday. I would also have to ask permission from the school principal or person in charge where I am stationed at the time for them to come visit.
How does one work for more than 24 hours at a time?[That happens when we’re] working another’s person shift. When there is no relief, we just have to continue working. Somewhere in between shifts, we take one hour to bathe, eat and fresh ourselves up.
If someone else is there [working with me], then we would take turns so we both get a little nap. If I am by myself, I have to take a chance to sleep.
I would sleep on a piece of board, an old cupboard or a flat area. The booth isn’t that big so wherever is most comfortable at the moment [I’d sleep there]. Whenever I’m working night shift, it’s about 2 hours [sleep] max that I would get.
Depending on the time I get home from work, I would go to bed between 9pm and 11pm. I would then wake up at around 4am for work. So that’s about five to six hours of sleep. I sleep whenever I get the chance.
Are you afraid that the disruptions to your sleeping might affect your health?
Yes it will and it has. It has affected a number of officers on duty including myself. It changes your biological clock.
What is a typical shift like?
Well this depends on what shift I am working… The morning shift starts from the night before at home. I would prep my food and clothes to get a little head start. The next morning I would wake up at 4am because work starts at 6am. I’d get ready and leave and begin work at 5.45am.[…] I am stationed at a primary school, so there’s a lot going on. Logging in information in the diary of who is entering and leaving and so on within school hours. At 3pm, the pace picks back up as parents collect their children and you have to make sure the compound is secure and the flag is taken down.
The night shift now; this is where the day gets slower. After a busy day, I can relax. I look forward to the night shift because it less busy. There are no activities going on and nothing to do; the place is cool and quiet. I’d try to occupy myself because it does get hard at times, especially when tiredness kicks in. I’d count down the hours and patiently wait for my relief the next morning.
How do you pass the time at night?
Well, I do not have a smartphone; I just have a regular phone—so I don’t have the pleasure of surfing the net or watching YouTube. There is a television where I might watch the news or whatever is showing at the time, or I’d listen to the radio. I’d also read the Bible and other inspirational literature to keep me up. When I don’t feel like doing any of that, I would take a nap right at my desk or continue building my scrapbook of historical sites in Trinidad and Tobago.
Do you ever feel scared working alone at nights?
Yes I do. My girls would ask: ‘daddy how you so brave to be working long hours in the night by yourself?’ I would tell them that I pray each and every time I go to work and as long as God is on my side I am okay.
Some locations where I worked, I’ve heard footsteps or somebody screaming. Other officers have experienced this as well. All I do is pray and ask God to keep me safe while I’m there.
How do your work hours affect family time?
I discuss my hours with my wife and children. When I’m at work, especially if I’m making a double, they would come and drop food or a change of clothing for me and lime a little bit. On mornings, I would travel or drop my wife to work before we go our separate ways. Five out of seven days, we would communicate regularly. I would see my girls when I get home from work or when they are leaving for school in the mornings.
I get two off days per week. If it’s on a Sunday and Monday, I’ll go to church with the family on Sunday and then we’ll either go to the beach or sightseeing on Monday. If its two days during the week, I try to catch up on some sleep, do some laundry, clean around the house and cook for my family.
Is your income enough to provide for you and your family?
I earn $3,500 a month on average and [when you add my wife’s pay], our two salaries put together is $7,500. It barely meets our needs. We get paid fortnightly. My family and I are renting currently so one pay check for the month is allocated to rent and the next one would go towards buying groceries and paying the bills.
What is the biggest challenge you face while on duty?
One, if there is a break-in; two, a fire; or three, falling ill. I have no form of protection. We only carry a baton on us; we do not carry firearms. This always worries me if something was to happen.
Do you think people show enough appreciation for your profession?
No, they don’t. This is one of the professions that many people scorn upon. They see us as nobodies. Many people would come at the compound and refuse to give their name at the booth because they assume that they can just walk in. Parents just drop off their children without saying ‘good morning.’ Staff would just pull up at the gate and wait for me to open the gate and just drive straight through without saying ‘thanks.’ This really tells me how we see each other as human beings in today’s society.
Can you share an interesting thing that happened while on duty?
I can. I love writing poetry. There this one poem that I wrote years ago for my mother—she is now deceased—that I love sharing with people that I meet. The school that I am stationed at is a SDMS primary school, so there are strict rules that they follow. However I took a chance to share my poem with them for their mothers’ day program.
The security booth is close to the hall and on the day of the program I heard a student reading it aloud for everyone. No edits were made; he read it word for word. I felt a sense of pride and it really warmed me on the inside. When school was over, teachers and students complimented me on the poem that I wrote as they said it made them think of their own mothers.
What would you say is the most fulfilling thing about your job?
I get to communicate with people. Yes, I receive a salary at the end of the month but working isn’t just about money. I am able to talk to students who may have issues at home [or] who may not have a father in their life and encourage them to strive for excellence. I enjoy coming to work the daylight shift. Children like when I call them by their names or when I make monkey faces at them. I just love to see them smile. I even talk to parents who look stressed or whom I haven’t seen in a while. They really appreciate these small things.
This is a profession I never wanted to be in [but] I go to work every day and do the job to the best of my ability.
The Bible says: ‘whatever you do, do it unto the lord and not onto man.’ Although this was never a profession I wanted to do, the salary I receive pays my rent and feeds my family.
Can you tell us more about the scrapbook you said you’re working on?
I started working on the scrapbook two years ago. I actually have done two scrap books; but I’ll tell you about the historical one first. Seeing that I have no form of recreation or internet at work, I read. I read the daily newspapers and religious literature and I’ll come across really interesting articles that I think is worthy of saving.
I started cutting them out and keeping them. I bought some pieces of bristol board, glue and started working on a scrapbook. I would usually use the newspapers I found at work and then I started asking people to bring their old newspapers for me. I don’t go on the internet and print articles and I don’t use articles from magazines.
People buy newspapers every day and then they just throw it away. Why throw away something that you can use? So, I gathered as much papers as I can and at work I would read and select the most interesting articles. I would work on the scrap book depending on the location I’m stationed at. Sometimes there’s space to do things and sometimes there’s none. I just work with what I have.
This scrapbook is 80 plus pages long. Each bristol board is a different colour so it’s catchy to the eye and I also included a table of contents so the articles can easily be found.
Some of the articles in the scrapbook are on people who collect antiques like old cars, crafts and arts, or on old historical sites in Trinidad and Tobago and around the world, couples that had a 50th year anniversary or children who have learning disabilities that excelled in sports or other aspects of life.
In terms of historical sites, I don’t think people know enough about their history and how Trinidad was 20 years ago. There are some sites I’ve never been too and some that recently surfaced such as the Bunsee Trace Mud Volcano located in Penal.
These are the things that inspired while reading the newspaper and I said to myself that if this can inspire me then it just may inspire someone else too. I made this scrapbook so in case something happens to me; my children will know what the world is like and what existed before their time. I also hope that it goes from generation to generation so that children will be more appreciative of life and what is around them. I’m still working on the scrapbook up to today.
The second scrapbook is one I did for my daughter as a Christmas gift. She’s aspiring to be a veterinarian so I did one along those lines. Using the same daily newspaper, I’d cut out articles about each and every single animal there is. This one is about 60 pages long.