The "Working in Ghana" Project

Prison Officer

[Mrs. Adome, age 25, has been a prison officer for eight years. She and her husband are both athletes. The couple live in a suburb of Accra. They have no children, although Mrs. Adome is fond of them and sometimes entertains them in the single room she shares with her husband. She joined the Prison Service immediately after completing middle school. During the interview, Mrs. Adome showed Stephen Obiri-Yeboah some photographs from an album kept at her home. Most photographs are of her in uniform.]

I am a prison officer at a facility in Accra. I am among the few bold ladies in the country who can feel proud to work with the Prison Service. That is not because I couldn't have taken another profession, but because I liked the work after I completed my training.

The basic qualification used to be the middle school leaving certificate, but four years ago it became the ordinary level of the General Certificate of Education--unless the person is skilled in sports like football, athletics, handball, volley ball and table tennis.

Besides these basic requirements, it is compulsory for every staff member to receive five months training in the Police Service Depot in Accra. During this training period, one is taught of how to handle various weapons. (I saw a photograph in which she was handling a machine gun.) The trainees are also given physical training to improve their health so they can work continuously without becoming easily tired.

We attended classes to learn the basics of report writing and the various tricks used to deal with prisoners. That is why it is very easy for just one prison officer to lead ten or more prisoners to farms to work and bring them all back. The five-month course is truly intensive and people fall sick easily. But I was able to do it without any difficulties because I was not new to morning physical education training. It is common to every sports man or woman. During the training period, the trainees are not given an allowance for the first two months, but one is added in the third and subsequent months. This is to make sure that whoever gets the allowance is interested in the profession. Trainees often quit within the first month because of the nature of the training.

Officials from various organizations, such as secondary schools, Prison Service, Police Service, Customs, Exercise and Preventive Service, visit various regional and national sports competitions to recruit sports men and women to their service so they will be well represented in national and international competitions. I was selected by both the Prison Service and the Police Service during the 1985-86 academic year. The Customs, Exercise and Preventive Service came around later, but my elder brother, who was a teacher, recommended the Prisons Service to my parents. They bought all the necessary sporting equipment for me and I attended the five months intensive training and performed creditably. After the training, I was confirmed as a prison officer without rank. Two years ago I got my first rank, which is corporal.

At the prison we run shifts, and each shift lasts for eight hours. The periods are from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. We work on a rotation basis.

The women officers work from Monday to Friday, but the men work throughout the week. There is no break period within the eight hours. Then one leaves the area of duty for his/her house until the next duty period. I have two main types of duties. I work as a prison officer and at the same time as an athlete (long-distance runner) for the Prison Service during the national and international sporting competition. I am therefore a lady with two responsibilities, which has made me popular (laughs). I work for eight hours when the sporting activity is over but work for only four hours when approaching the sports period. When the sport is very near I may use all eight hours working period for training. This gives me enough time to train well.

The main duty of the female prison officer is to see to that there is water, firewood, and food for the prisoners. We more or less work as mothers to the prisoners, who prepare their own food. Our jobs differ from the men, who guard the prisoners so that they cannot run away and also take them to the field or farms to work. The prisoners can be hired to work in schools and organizations for some minimum amount. And the Prison Service has some cassava farms and maize farms for feeding the prisoners. The more crops they grow, the more food they eat.

Working in the prison service demands extra carefulness because prisoners who look very miserable can lead you to trouble if you attempt to help them. There have been stories that some prisoners will give huge sums of money or assurance to an officer if they are allowed to escape the cells. This has led the authorities to issue a rule that if a prisoner in the charge of an officer runs away, that officer will be sacked (fired) immediately. I have witnessed instances some years ago in which two officers were sacked. This means that if the instruction says kill the prisoner or don't give him food, under no circumstances should an officer make an attempt to help, even if he is your husband or father.

I don't like this aspect of the work because you work against your own will and in the direction of instructions. If the prisoner, who is ignorant about most of our rules, sees you in that situation, he terms you to be a cruel person, and may even insult you and threaten your life. I reported a prisoner to my boss when he insulted me and promised to attack me in my house when he finishes his prison sentence. This led to the prisoner's sentence another being extended five years plus put him in solitary confinement for two weeks. I became sad when the young man started crying bitterly.

It is quite possible for an officer to get diseases, mostly skin diseases, from the prisoners whose environment is very dirty. Some may not bathe for days or even weeks. I was compelled to buy some clothes for some ladies who were sent to our area. Some time ago, ladies were not sent to cells but now there are many of them in my working place. The females look more sympathetic and neat than the males.

Sometimes a prisoner is so provocative that if extra care is not taken, you will shoot him. I was against the idea of handling arms when dealing with human beings initially because one can easily be provoked. But later I understood that the arms enable us to control them; some prisoners are so energetic that they could otherwise charge us and run away.

The work is so delicate that sometimes people attack the prisons and take away their people when there is a coup d'etat. Armed robbers could also attack the prison to free one of their colleagues if we were not well armed. All these attacks normally take place in the night. For this reason night duty is very difficult and risky. Human beings, not being nocturnal creatures, can sleep in the course of discharging their duties, even if they have slept the whole of the day.

The newly trained prison officers do most of the juniors' job during a particular duty period. My supervisor does not joke with me at all because of my efficiency during sporting activities. He tries as much as possible to defend me when complaints are made by co-workers who sometimes envy some of my benefits. My supervisor normally buys drinks for me when it is approaching the sports period. Most of my co-workers, both those above and below my rank, love me and even present gifts when I perform well during athletic events.

The Prison Service has a union which provides benefits for wedding ceremonies, funerals and other events like end-of-year parties. The union embodies all the workers in the Prison Service. I take an active role, for the union brings all the personnel together and is the best way to channel our grievances to the appropriate quarters.

The pay, which is a function of one's rank, embodies all other benefits like transport and accommodation. This means that whether one gets a room in the prison quarters or not, does not affect one's pay. I don't stay in the Prison Service's accommodations. There are limited facilities, which has rendered my request ineffective. I will not stop requesting accommodation until I get one--it would minimize the cost of both transport and accommodation for me and my husband, who at twenty-six years of age is improving his football skills to receive benefits like Abedi Pele (a famous Ghanaian soccer player).

I get twenty-eight working days annual leave and in addition receive casual as well as sick leaves. All my medical expenses are borne by the Prison Service. In contrast to various dispensaries and clinics, any staff member who goes to the police hospital is treated free. In cases where prescriptions are needed, the cashier's office pays the costs after they are reported, though it takes some time.

Promotion opportunities are available if you are able to complete a course. I like this opportunity because we are paid fully for the three months of training, when we are mainly away from work.

My work has not had any significant effect on my family, as I get the chance to visit them frequently--at least once a week. My husband is also not disturbed when I go on night duties as there is no child to disturb him at night. The work has made me have sympathy for almost all persons, most especially children. I also get enough time to sleep and prepare good food for my husband and myself. I also enjoy the sports and all those involved in it.