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‘Imagine going to work, fully aware that Covid-19 is present!’ Day in the life of a prison guard

“[…] Mentally, it is draining and frustrating at times… You work with persons today and by the next day or two, they are testing positive for Covid-19 and going into quarantine. So you’re now left wondering if you could possibly have it.

“[…] It isn’t easy to go in to an environment being fully aware that Covid-19 is present and then be asked to function normally…”

Wired868 highlights the day-to-day lives of everyday persons in Trinidad and Tobago in our ongoing series entitled: ‘A day in the life…’ Today, we talk to a 40-year-old prison officer:

Photo: Two prison guards pose in their protective masks during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(via TT Prisons)

How has Covid-19 affected your daily routine?

Thus far, Covid-19 has had a great impact on my personal life. Things like socialising and doing personal stuff like going to the bank and trying to get simple shopping done has proven to be a bit difficult. 

Also gyms and parks were closed for a long time, so I was not able to get my usual physical fitness and exercises in. I tried getting this done at home but that was [not the same].

It is frustrating that I cannot continue doing the things that I enjoy like hiking, exercising and liming with friends and family. Also I now have to try my best to stay away from most of my friends and family because of the environment that I am in on a daily basis. That has really put a damper on things.

Do you take special precautions because of your job?

I had to change the way I enter my home after work. I implemented a routine that included changing my clothes and having a shower before entering the home to ensure that I don’t bring any infections into the household, especially because my mother and I live in the same household and she would be considered one of the high risk persons. 

This is also very important for me to do seeing that I work in an essential service where there is a high possibility of getting in contact with the virus. Basically I am exposed to it daily, but due to the fact that I always take the necessary precautions to protect myself, I have not been infected by the virus.

Photo: The novel coronavirus.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your job?

My main area of work is being a prison officer. The virus did not affect my main source of income, as I was required to work.

In the prisons, Covid-19 has spread throughout at a high number—among both inmates and officers—causing a sort of panic throughout the system, which eventually caused the system to shut down. This resulted in officers being split into shifts and working on rotation to ensure that we don’t infect each other or the prison population on the whole. So we have various precautions taking place on a daily basis. 

Covid-19 did not really affect my professional life as negatively as it did for many others, as I was considered an essential worker. So my payments ran as usual. However, it did affect my working hours and put a strain on me. 

I also own a construction business and it affected me getting jobs, as many persons complained about the economic downturn. That caused a shortcoming where getting jobs to sustain my additional income is concerned.

When it comes to my construction business, I had to make sure we are well sanitised, wear our masks and try to social distance as much as we could, in order to carry out the work and get the job done in a timely manner.

Photo: A prison cell in Trinidad.

Can you say more about work in the prisons during the pandemic?

It was a very trying time because there were flare ups of the virus that came in at various stages of the pandemic. There were times when we had to isolate and then the [prisoners] lockdown definitely put stress and strain on the working staff. Duties that certain officers normally wouldn’t do, like cooking, they now had to step up and get things done because the inmates were in quarantine—so the officers had to do the jobs that the inmates would usually do. 

[…] This was the first time in history,  that I know of, where officers had to go out and cook for inmates. The entire event management department was called out to assist the maximum security prison with preparing meals on a daily basis for a three week period, which covered the quarantine time of the inmates and officers.

So we had to come out and prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner on a daily basis. It was very tiring. I was working from 5am to 7pm Sunday to Sunday, because at the end of the day, food services cannot afford to be shut down in the prisons. Resources were limited as per usual and staffing was short, which caused us to have to utilise recruits to get the job done.

This was very stressful, but thankfully the mission was accomplished.

Photo: Inmates serve pineapple and lime gelatin at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas on 26 July 2017.
(Copyright Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

How have you and other prison officers coped with this challenge mentally?

Mentally, it is draining and frustrating at times. At the end of the day we can only do so much. Everyday I am getting up to go into an environment that I am sure has Covid-19. You work with persons today and by the next day or two, they are testing positive for Covid-19 and going into quarantine. So you’re now left wondering if you could possibly have it.

Some persons have to get tested on a regular basis to ensure that they are negative. I haven’t been tested at all, however most of my co-workers have been tested—some were positive while some were negative. I haven’t shown any symptoms of the virus and they said that only if you show symptoms you should get tested.

Honestly, I feel a bit safer in the public than at work. At work, I am positive that Covid-19 is circulating, whereas in the public it is sort of a guess. It isn’t easy to go in to an environment being fully aware that Covid-19 is present and then be asked to function normally. It is very stressful and the support from the seniors as well as the administration was very few and far in-between. 

Administration was just giving us the material to get the work done and there wasn’t any big support, in terms of encouraging the officers in light of the situation that we were facing. No incentives were given out, so we had to work with the bare essentials that we had.  

You are actually putting your life at risk by consciously going into an environment that has Covid-19 present, and you have to make up your mind to just deal with the situation at hand. 

Photo: Acting Commissioner of the Prison Service Dennis Pulchan supervises a drill at their facilities.
(via TT Prisons)

Has the pandemic caused any other changes in the prison service?

Presently, there is no labour really taking place in the prison system. The inmates are being monitored closely as they are in quarantine and most of the population is just dormant, and we are trying to protect them as much as we could from the virus. 

It is a tough, stressful situation. Everyday we have to be sanitised, we have to sanitise the cells and all the inmates. Each time an officer comes in or out, they have to be sanitised as well. So the work load has definitely increased in terms of that aspect.

I have to wear a mask on a daily basis for so many hours, and that is really stressful too. When I’m on work I have to wear the mask, when I’m going anywhere with my family in my vehicle we have to wear the mask. Coping with the protection regulations and always having to be mindful of where I am and where I should go can be sort of a task.  

Is there any positive you can take out of this period? And how have you adjusted?

Well, Covid-19 allowed for some time to reflect about life. Even though, I was still required to work, I took some time to focus a bit on myself and look at certain things from a different perspective.

Otherwise, I just try as best as I can to do the things that I am accustomed doing outside of the Covid-19 pandemic. I still try to function as normally as I could on a daily basis. I feel that Covid-19 is now something that I have to learn to live with. 

Most times, I just say my prayers and go with God.

Photo: Members of the Prison Service applaud the hard work of the country’s nurses during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(via TT Prisons)

About Lauren Modeste

Lauren Modeste
Lauren Modeste is a Wired868 intern who is currently in her final semester at COSTAATT, where she is pursuing a Journalism degree. She is a very reserved, responsible and self-confident person with a passion for fashion. Modeste also enjoys dancing, reading and planning and managing events.

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