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Diary of a Prison Officer (Social Work book review)

Posted: December 11 2020

Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work
Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: Diary of a Prison Officer: A gripping novel about friendship, finding love and fighting discrimination in a women’s prison
  • Author: Josie Channer
  • ISBN: 798651445226
  • Publication: Independently Published, 2020
  • Extent: 232 pages including index
  • Reviewed by: by Naema Hussein, MA in Social Work student, Brunel University London
Book cover of Diary of a prison officer

Josie Channer’s book, ‘Diary of a Prison Officer’ is a narrative publication which is set as diary entries which alternate from her past experiences as a prison officer and present experiences of backpacking throughout Africa.

The story focuses on Amber Campbell as the main character who is a Caribbean Black Londoner woman. We follow her diary which switches scenes from her past as a prison officer and currently her travelling through Africa to create a stronger sense of identity. Amber has gone to travel Africa and gain a deeper insight of her black heritage. As she travels with other tourists, she sees the same prejudices and discriminations she saw back in London being targeted towards the local cultures in Africa by the other tourists. Through her journey from prison officer to travelling around Africa, we follow her friendships, her love life and her personal growth. Josie Channer explores the mistreatment, discrimination and lack of support from the prison system surrounding women with a focus on black women. The book targets women from all backgrounds and cultures who can relate to mistreatment and discrimination.

Josie Channer highlights many issues in the prison system such as the racist colleagues, institutional racism and the lack of concern for black women. The main character, Amber Campbell, experiences all these issues and more during her time as a prison officer in a women’s prison. We are brought along while she is bullied by her colleagues, when her voice is marginalised and when opportunities are seized. The slow deterioration of her passion, motivation and mental health was fuelled back up by her friends rather than the system that caused her issues. This brings to light whether there are procedures and policies that offer or require prison offices to engage in mental health support provided by the prison. Prison officers may not receive enough attention and care from the prison system after shift hours which is a cause for concern. In Amber’s experience colleagues bring each other down when they should be supporting one another to create a safe and healthy working space. In a social worker setting, it emphasises what mental and emotional support should be provided when working with vulnerable individuals and cases. The writer engages with the reader of the hardships of working in a prison and some may relate to the issues at hand in their own social circle or place of work. Some readers that can relate would remember times which they faced discrimination or hard words from colleagues which allows them to bond with the main characters feelings. However, the switch of scenes of when Amber is travelling is a refreshing change. The enjoyment and change of mood in Amber’s diary entries from prison officer days to travelling is enough to change the readers mood. As you read through the book you see how strong Amber becomes in the future, however, prison officer Amber is unaware of this. You find yourself rooting for Amber to not let the rude colleagues get to her because you know she will overcome it.

Josie Channer has a unique writing style that draws the reader in a way that they are in unison with the main character. The language used is simple and clear like a conversation between friends but also, it’s complex and confusing with all the Ms and Mrs to keep up with as well the switching of settings. This puzzling element can be traced back to the confused and complicated situations Amber was in, further strengthening the connection between a reader and the main character, Amber. As diaries are known to be a place where thoughts and feelings can be written without any judgement, the reader keeps an open mind as they read through Amber’s entries where she expresses her vulnerability.

Overall, the book does not shy away from issues which may be taboo to speak on, yet it highlights them to be an important topic. This can be discomforting for readers as it forces them to face their own experiences of these issues, they can relate with which can be negative. However, there is a strong sense of ensuring these topics be spoken on and given a voice for others to know how many people live and feel as women, either in general or as black women. The book is written in a way that it is effortless to read and allows one to look on their own personal growth as we follow the main character’s growth.