Former nursery worker wants others from diverse backgrounds to join her in the prison service

A Muslim woman enjoying a career in the prison service says it’s not the same as what you see on TV and wants more women like her to consider the role.
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Sobia Parveen, 31, works as a prison officer at HMP Sudbury and is observing Ramadan this month.

Muslim prison staff can observe the holy month’s traditions while at work, such as fasting from dawn until sunset. Other ways they’re able to observe Ramadan include suhoor, the morning meal eaten by Muslims before the sun has come up during Ramadan; iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims at sunset to break their fast, and Salah, performing five daily prayers during the holy month.

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HMPPS has higher numbers of staff from diverse minority religious backgrounds than ever before, but Sobia believes more can be done.

Sobia is observing Ramadan while working at HMP Sudbury near Ashbourne in DerbyshireSobia is observing Ramadan while working at HMP Sudbury near Ashbourne in Derbyshire
Sobia is observing Ramadan while working at HMP Sudbury near Ashbourne in Derbyshire

Sobia has a degree in childhood and youth studies and first worked in schools and nurseries. She then worked for a while alongside probation staff as a finance benefit and debt advisor, but an advert for a prison officer role sparked her interest and she applied successfully, working first at HMP Leicester.

She now works as an induction officer and is responsible for settling in new arrivals to HMP Sudbury, a category D rehabilitation and resettlement prison near Ashbourne in Derbyshire that is home to around 600 prisoners. She says: “The job is not like you would see in television dramas – it's like any other job.

“I have lots of energy and I like talking to people and supporting them. I feel I can really make a big difference. I get lots of job satisfaction I know I wouldn’t get just sat at a desk.

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“Growing up with brothers, I was used to being in a male environment and I have a strong personality. Talking and communicating are really important in this role, as are being firm and setting clear boundaries. Prisoners know they can come to me for help, they know I’ll be firm but fair.”

Sobia, who is of Pakistani heritage, said she got used to being in a caring role at a young age, having to take care of her late mother when she became sick. But her mother was supportive of her taking the prison officer role.

Sobia said her faith was important to her and observing Ramadan was still possible while carrying out her busy role. She added: “Fasting and working has never been an issue for me. I have lots of energy and the one time I was feeling fatigued, I was placed on administrative duties. I have great relationships with fellow officers who are supportive and help out.

“I reassured my auntie I can still pray while at work. My mum needed some reassurance, but she just wanted me to do something I enjoy, and I definitely am.

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“As long as you give more than you take, are a good listener, say hello and are polite with the prisoners, anyone can do this job.

“I’d love to be a prison governor one day but we’ll see what happens. I want to see more women in senior roles and definitely more from ethnically diverse backgrounds. There are opportunities to make a difference and progress your career.”

You do not need qualifications or previous experience to become a prison officer or to join in a support staff role. HM Prison Service is looking for caring people with good communication and influencing skills and effective decision-making. Those who would like to take the first step towards a rewarding new career can apply or find out more by visiting here.

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