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For the first ten months after arriving at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women,  I remained in intake and could not get a job. The rule for coming out of intake was that your first job should be in the kitchen or housekeeping.

But one day there was a posting for an inmate advisor. I had no idea what this was but applied anyway because I wanted to work outside the wing. I had to take an open book test. I also met the supervisor who asked if I could file, do paperwork, and talk to inmates. I recall her saying, “Your job isn’t to get inmates out of charges but ensure their rights are protected and understood.”

Weeks turned into two months and I assumed another inmate got the job. The following week I received mail from the supervisor with a start date. The supervisor Ms. J taught me a lot. It was a good thing I had a sales and marketing background and picked things up quickly. This job was very fast paced and a lot of paperwork had to be done by hand.

Meeting inmates that received infractions for not following the rules was the hardest part of my new job. These women thought they were my clients, I was their lawyer and Ms. Jones was the judge. In some crazy way, this was true. Inmates don’t pay me. I get paid 45 cents per hour by the Department of Corrections. I can’t even purchase a stamp or soda on this hourly wage.

I have had inmates offer to pay me big bucks to get them out of a charge. Of course, I refused. I wouldn’t risk losing my job over this no matter the payout. Nowadays no one offers. I have been doing this job for over 10 years, and I see the same women — “the frequent flyers” — every week. They know asking me will yield the same response, “No.” So why bother? 

There are times that inmates are innocent of the infraction. Staff writing the infraction got the wrong inmate or flat out lied, and the camera’s view proved the truth. There are sometimes procedural errors with writing or serving the infraction that causes it to be dismissed before a hearing. I have learned a lot about the staff’s character based on the type of infractions they write. Staff members are creatures of habit just like us.

There will always be inmates not following the rules, and with more than 1,200 women here, I will always have a job. This is good news, even during a pandemic. Working keeps me sane and out of the housing unit. I have always been a woman that needs to keep my body and mind busy. Every inmate in prison should have a job.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Donna Hockman is a mother of two grown children as well as a grandmother. She is incarcerated in Virginia.