Creating ghosts in the penal machine: prison ofﬁcer occupational morality and the techniques of denial
A key part of the everyday working life of the prison ofﬁcer is witnessing the physical manifestation of the suffering of others. Prisons are factories built for the production of suffering and pain, and all who encounter these disrespectful and punitive environments ﬁnd the experience both ‘traumatic and damaging’ (Liebling 2004: 166). Imprisonment presents an unremitting challenge to a person’s self-respect, autonomy, security and personal safety. Endemic and structurally produced, these pains create in prisoners intense feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, guilt, depression, anxiety, fear and distress. Prison ofﬁcers often deal with people who have undertaken extreme measures in response to these inherent pains of imprisonment. In any day, an ofﬁcer may ﬁnd themselves cutting down a person who has successfully hung themselves; providing resuscitation for a suicide attempter; dealing with a person who has smeared their own excrement over themselves or the cell walls and is refusing to wash, eat or drink; or encountering a person so distressed that they perpetually cut up their arms, their legs or neck, mutilate themselves or attempt to burn themselves alive. More mundanely, but equally disturbingly, ofﬁcers spend a great deal of time with people so demoralised and damaged by their experience of imprisonment and the outside world that they have become apathetic and unable to cope with the harsh realities of life.