Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Turning of The Screw

Staff are beginning to notice this tiny corner of the web. Perhaps their home life is so dull that surfing is their escape, or maybe they have so little to do on duty that perusing my waffle is one way to fill the hours.

This has had consequences. After a somewhat spiky encounter a couple of weeks ago, one screw asked if he'd done enough to get a mention here? Search for "silverback" to find that answer.. And this morning, a Senior Officer paused during locking me up to take me task for always referring to "prison officers" as "screws". He was politely offended, insisting that he was a professional man, a prison officer...not a screw.

The origin of the word, screw, is disputed. The most favoured explanation is that it comes from the early Separate system. Each cell was equipped with a box with a crank handle, and the prisoner had to turn the handle so many thousand revolutions per 8 hour day. Prison staff could make the turning of the handle easier or harder by adjusting a screw...

We use the term "screw" in a not particularly pejorative way, much as staff refer to us as "cons". That is, "convicted prisoners". No insult is intended; we have other terms for screws we don't like, the most common being "a dog". And so, much though this Senior Officer doesn't like it, I'm sticking to "screw". Sorry guv!
And in passing, a manager I've cheerfully baited for the last few years mentioned that he read the blog and that I "sound quite reasonable" at times. Two things struck me about that. Firstly, it shows just how much they would really know me if they actually bothered to engage with me. And more worryingly, where have I gone wrong if Governors think I'm reasonable??


  1. as far as i know every con ex con - anyone going into or been affected of the prison system calls a prison officer a screw - i therefore know what you mean when u say screw it is a street word and does not need an explanation as to what who it refers to - simply put it is everyday slang and not an offensive term used to put prison officers down - further prison officer is a mouthful and if you shorten it to p o folk will become confused thinking of the post office

  2. And I think it's a sign of the times!! Well done Ben, you have got them worried, on your release none of them will fancy having you name and shame then for their petty attempts to undermine you and what you are trying to do.

    Love yds x

  3. They were refered to as "Kangas" in Holloway, cockney rhyming slang for Kangaroo= screw. Not sure if this is universal or just a london thing. But some of the slang words are always a giveaway if someone has been in jail.

  4. Thanks for the history of the word, Ben.

    In America, they are mostly referred to as C.O.'s or D.O.'s - Corrections Officers, Detention Officers, but there are, of course, a plethora of derogatory terms.

  5. My father is a prison officer and reffers to himself and other officers as screws. And i find it sad that the screws at HMP Shepton Mallet cant find the time to engage with you Ben, if they did they see what a highly articulate and educated man you are, perhaps the threat of exposing their lack of intelect is why they dont. Please be assured that not all prison officers are the same. Along side my father,i have many friends who are officers and realy do have a deep rooted passion for their job, and helping prisoners in any way they can. As my father says "if i had never became an officer i would have ended up on the otherside side of the bars, therefore who am i to judge anyone"