Jail sex ‘grubby with no privacy’
PRISONS are strange places - not sexy places.
In some ways they're like a medieval village, where everything is run-down and shabby, nobody carries a mobile phone, everybody minds everybody else's business, and everybody's madness is on full display.
In other ways, they're like a cross between a Centrelink and the noisiest, dirtiest, most uncomfortable Formule 1 motel you could imagine.
As a prison officer, you watch and manage a bunch of guys who have nothing better to do than sit and watch you right back, trying to figure out how they might play you.
Since there aren't many criminal masterminds outside of Hollywood movies and HBO, this rarely amounts to a game of high-stakes intellectual chess.
However, manipulation of officers is still a thing that prisoners sometimes manage to do, which is why new recruits receive training in how it works - generally through some version of the "downing a duck" story.
"Downing a duck" explains how a prisoner targets a naive or vulnerable officer, forms a friendly relationship, and then gradually grooms the officer to disclose sensitive information or to compromise themselves in them some way.
The officer is then threatened with exposure unless they meet the prisoner's demands.
New recruits receive stern warnings to avoid being overly friendly with prisoners, and it is made very clear that if you're having sex with a prisoner, you're being far too friendly indeed.
However, there is no equivalent "downing a duck" story to explain how female prison officers can go from being a normal, reasonably competent employee one day to a prison officer who is having sex with a crim the next.
We received no explicit training in "not shagging crims", perhaps because training us out of such an obvious no-no would be considered deeply insulting to most female recruits, as well as unnerving for our male counterparts to sit through, and far too weird and unfathomable a thing to explain in a Certificate IV vocational training course.
And surely, we thought at the time, it doesn't happen that much anyway?
The news this week might suggest otherwise, but it's important to remember that the reason why these stories are news precisely because it is so damn weird and unfathomable.
As female prison officers, we found the idea of having a … thing (even the word "affair" in this context feels ludicrous) with a prisoner mystifying. It's not just a question of why, but how?
Prisons are grubby places with very little privacy - not only are you dressed in the most unattractive uniform in creation, but your duty belt is so encumbered with keys and radio and other contraptions that even a toilet break is a time-consuming operation.
Whatever quick grope these people could manage out of view of the cameras, the staff and other prisoners, it would hardly be a quality experience.
But "why" is the big question.
You're surrounded by male prison officers; if you're desperate for some male attention, you shouldn't need to opt for the guy who doesn't have a job, doesn't even have his own bedroom, and who needs 24-hour supervision.
He might be charismatic, but he's obviously not too smart (because he got caught, didn't he?), and if he gives you a present, you really don't want to think about how he got it for you.
But gee, I bet he's a great listener when you tell him all about your troubles at work.
Never mind that a prisoner isn't really in a position to freely consent to sex with a prison guard, and so if you're having a breathless "affair" with a crim, you might be branded a sex offender as well as a fool.
There will be plenty of commentators offering compassion for the poor, troubled female officers in these bizarre stories, but they will receive very little from the co-workers they endangered with their pillow-talk, or from female prison officers who already face an uphill battle to gain the respect of some male colleagues.
Females comprise half the human race, and an even larger proportion of the welfare workers and administrators who manage offenders post-release; male prisoners benefit from a professional and authoritative female presence in the prison environment, as it is a presence they will deal with daily when they re-enter society.
Fortunately for everyone, that's exactly what the great majority of female prison officers are.
Kerryn Pholi is a writer and former corrections officer.