Diary of a Prison Officer by Josie Channer #BookReview

The Diary of a Prison Officer blog tour starts today and I am pleased to be sharing my review. Thank you so much to the author and Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and for my gifted and signed copy of the book.

The blurb …

It’s 2003, Tony Blair is still Prime Minister and a shy loner from London, Amber Campbell, joins the prison service searching for purpose.

Behind the walls of the women’s prison Amber is determined to prove that she has what it takes. She makes a pact with two close friends to support each other no matter what. However, the three Black women struggle when they experience discrimination and disappointment at every turn. 

There is rising racial tension in her home town when twelve far right local councillors are elected. Amber reflects on the prison system in her blog and takes an emotional journey off the beaten track through Africa to find love.

My review …

Diary of a Prison Officer is a combination of diary entries and blog posts from fictional character Amber Campbell and which draws on the author’s real life experiences as a prison officer.

The story starts in 2018 as Amber is taking a tour of East Africa to explore a deeper understanding of her identity as a black woman of caribbean heritage living in London. As she travels Amber reads some of her diaries from her time as a prison officer starting in 2003. While she is reading she hopes to remind herself of why her job once meant so much to her, and also how she fell in love with her husband. It was interesting to follow Amber’s travels to the different African countries each with their own different cultures, landscapes and way of life.

The diary entries give a fascinating insight into the role of a prison officer at women’s prison, HMP Holloway, but particularly the difficulties of a black female prison officer starting at the bottom and trying to rise through the ranks. She and her fellow black colleagues are constantly overlooked for promotions, treated like ‘gophers’, bullied and rejected and if they complain are told they have an attitude problem. She wonders why 100% of cleaning staff are black but 0% of senior officers? As Amber becomes more confident in her role, she becomes an advocate for her friends and slowly starts to see some change.

She not only advocates on behalf of her BAME colleagues but also on behalf of the prisoners. She sees a vicious circle of drug addiction and reoffending and a frustrating lack of support for mentally ill and disabled prisoners. She really cares and goes above and beyond her duties to try to help these women while she herself struggles with dyslexia and shows the detrimental effect this has on her career. Amber also becomes involved in local politics and encouraging the black community to use their vote as she is alarmed to see the rise of the BNP party in her borough.

With several unnerving stories of life within the prison as well as on Amber’s African travels this was an entertaining yet thought provoking read with some emotional scenes. It’s so sad to read about women who are trapped in the cycle of drug addiction, broken homes, prostitution and crime and a probation and rehabilitation service that just doesn’t work. I thought that Amber was an inspirational character fighting back against institutionalised racism in the prison service and I was rooting for her throughout to receive the recognition she deserved.

I would recommend this interesting and timely story in light of the BLM movement and the current popularity of vocational memoirs, but I do feel that a little bit of editing would improve the flow of the book and really help it to stand out.

About the author …

Josie worked as a prison officer at Holloway Prison for many years and has a unique and specialist knowledge of how a prison is run. 

Josie likes to write about criminal justice system, politics, women’s issues and Black British history. Her work has been published with online political magazines a number of times. She is passionate about addressing the barriers that women of colour face.

Social Media Links – @JosieChanner

Follow the book tour …

Purchase links …

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