Valerie Chia, 28, Assistant Superintendent of Prisons 1 (ASP 1) is a Housing Unit Officer at Institution B4 (Pre-release Centre)
“I joined the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) when I was 26. I applied because it’s a meaningful job that allows me to help offenders reintegrate into the community. Curiosity also played a part, as I had always wanted to know what goes on behind the prison walls.
I’m currently working at a male institution called the Pre-release Centre (PRC), located in Institution B4. The inmates housed there are usually at the tail-end of their sentences, and there’s a pre-release programme that helps them get family support and financial aid referrals so they’ll be more motivated to stay on the right track after release.
As a Housing Unit Officer, I lead a team of officers and ensure that daily operations run smoothly. I also liaise with support units and other stakeholders and vendors to come up with programmes for the inmates.
The working environment and demands of the job are quite unlike those of a ‘typical’ job. Due to its people-centric nature, integrity, tenacity, firmness, and compassion are key traits a prison officer has to possess.
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This job has changed me for the better – I’ve become more disciplined. I’ve realised that we can only do so much to help others, and that they have to want help themselves in order to make a real change.
I’ve also come to see how complex people are, and that you cannot simply categorise people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Everyone has their own story of how they ended up in prison, and the majority are receptive to rehabilitation programmes and initiatives. They sincerely try to change and want our support to do so.
I’ve witnessed acts of compassion, selflessness and honesty from the inmates. Like when one of my inmates had injured himself, many of the others were quick to offer help. It’s evident that most of them truly look out for each other, which reminds me to look for the good in everyone.
Perhaps the most common assumptions about female prison officers are that we deal with female inmates only, or that we are fierce and manly due to the nature of our job. SPS does have female officers deployed in male institutions, and I just want to put it out there that we female officers are actually a warm and wonderful bunch!”
An earlier version of this article first appeared in CLEO September 2017.