One of the UK's youngest female prison officers lifts the lid on working at Bedford prison

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She revealed how she deals with male prisoners "double my age and a foot or two taller than me"

One of the UK's youngest female prison officers has revealed how she deals with male prisoners "double my age and a foot or two taller than me".

Emily, 22, first started working at men's prison HMP Bedford aged 20 – the youngest female officer on site.

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The history graduate said she loves the job despite some days involving "inmates screaming and shouting at you constantly".

Emily is one of the UK's youngest female prison guardsEmily is one of the UK's youngest female prison guards
Emily is one of the UK's youngest female prison guards

Among her most difficult moments was telling an entire wing of prisoners family visitation time was cancelled due to an unforeseen issue. She said it was "emotionally draining" – and left some prisoners fuming and self-harming.

Emily, who did not want her full name to be used, works mostly with men waiting to be sentenced, and said rude comments are common but training helped her "establish" herself.

Despite being under pressure, she said small wins like getting a thank you card from a leaving inmate who said she was "wise" help her stay positive.

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She said helping to look after category B prisoners has made her more confident and stronger – despite being one of the few women and the youngest staff member in the prison.

She said: "It's one of the most challenging choices I could have made – there are days where I sit and think 'what am I doing?'. But it's so rewarding and I feel I'm so much stronger, more confident and resilient. It's taught me to see a whole different side to the world and nothing else compares to that.

"I was warned before I started that it's a 'sink or swim' type of job. It does take a lot of confidence as a young female telling men double my age – and a foot or two taller than me – what they can and can't do.

"You're definitely on the front line – some days there will be inmates screaming and shouting at you constantly, and does really test you. But there are loads of really nice moments where you feel you're starting to make a difference to somebody's life."

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Emily joined a graduate scheme called Unlocked Graduates to get the job in 2021.

She said: "I came in with three other females, but I was the youngest. I was actually surprised by how confident I was when I first started. I knew I would have to be. Even then, everyone warned me the first three to six months would be tough and they were.

"At the start, the staff nor the prisoners know you so you have to establish yourself before you can build a rapport with people."

She said she talks about movies and video games to build a rapport with offenders and "set standards and stuck to them" to get respect.

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She initially attracted comments about her age – but she was pre-trained to deal with any instances of sexism, she said.

She said: "Rude comments are a reality in a male prison, but not so much once you establish yourself. I never faced anything I didn't feel prepared to challenge."

Emily said it "would be dishonest to say violence never happens" – but the team of officers support each other when needed.

She said: "You see people at their most human. When incidents do occur, inmates are often interested in discussing. Your most powerful tool is your voice. I know I deserve as much respect as any other officer."

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Emily said the high-pressure job can be "emotionally draining" – and there are days when she needs to take a minute to calm down.

She said: "Visits are so important for the prisoners – I had to deliver the news and having to see their responses was awful. There was a lot of anger and sadness, and some inmates even self-harmed over it.

"I've never experienced having people let all their rage and anger out, and bearing the emotional brunt to that extent. But realistically in there, officers are the only ones they can let their emotions out to. That tested my resilience more than anything else."

She said her best moments have been when people tell her they are looking forward to the one-to-one sessions she runs.

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She said: "When a prisoner tells you they're looking forward to opening up to someone about their feelings, it feels like you're making a real difference."

"We're not here to judge, so whenever someone is willing to work with us, they get the same respect back. Often prisoners are very open about their past and crimes. There are moments where you do start to see mindsets changing and they see a different point of view which is great."

Recently all the officers on a wing received hand-written cards thanking them from a prisoner who was getting out.

She said: "My card told me I was wise and emotionally intelligent beyond my years. He could see I was young, but he could see how much I was able to understand his situation.

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"Nice moments of appreciation like that give you a boost when you need it, and keep you going when times are tough. We keep them up on a notice board in the staff room, so when we're having a bad day we can all take a look."