Prisons support officer Steve Miller says he “doesn’t believe in losing.”
Case in point: Mr. Miller applied for a Cayman Islands prisons job in 2014 and, by his own admission, did not do very well. He said he was nervous in the interview, had not really done much research about the position and generally was not ready for the job.
He chalked up that first attempt into the “loss” column.
“But the mere fact that I did lose the first time made me come back even stronger,” Mr. Miller said during an interview last week at Her Majesty’s Prison Northward. “My mindset changed.”
He applied again in 2015, during the next round of recruitment at the prisons service, one of more than 450 applicants locally and internationally for just seven open positions. While still attending business administration classes at the University College of the Cayman Islands, Mr. Miller said he studied up on the job and made sure to keep physically fit by running two miles each day, starting at 4 a.m.
This time, in a recruitment process that included physical tests, interviews and a written test, Mr. Miller achieved the highest score.
“This time I was more focused,” he said. “I decided that if I’m going to go for it, I’m going to do it.”
Mr. Miller started as an operational support grade officer, one rank below standard prison officer, in October 2015. He’s still going to school for an associate degree at UCCI and is considering becoming an accountant, taking further classes at the International College of the Cayman Islands.
The young man’s heart, however, seems to be with the prison service, a position he had never even considered until he first applied in 2014.
“The post came up and I was in my associate [program] at UCCI and I thought to myself, well, I could accomplish some more – I could work and go to school at the same time,” he said. “Where I was before, I wasn’t feeling all that accomplished. I’d probably like to become the accountant for the prison or something. I love what I do.”
Duties at the prison vary in hours and shifts, but generally Mr. Miller said they involve patrolling the outer fence area, checking people into and out of Northward and monitoring security cameras and radios from the “brain center” of the main adult men’s prison.
The slender 21-year-old said some people are curious about his career choice. “When I tell people what I do, they’re like ‘What? You don’t look like a prison officer.’ I guess they expect you to look a certain way.”
Also, as a Caymanian who went to high school locally, Mr. Miller occasionally runs into some of his former classmates at Northward. He recounts one experience a number of years ago during his high school days when he was invited to speak to a group of young men at the Bonaventure Boys Home during a summer camp.
“Interestingly enough, some of the same guys from that camp are now in Northward and we bonded,” he said. “When you get out [of prison], don’t look back, that’s what I tell them.”
Mr. Miller said he feels it important to try to relate on some level to the inmates and treat them equally. He said it’s not easy, especially with many of the prisoners sharing the same mindset and feeling as though their situation will never change.
“You have to tell them … other people have had it hard, but what you’ve done, they’re not doing,” he said.
“You must have the confidence to deal with [the inmates],” he said. “You have to be firm and fair. There’s one thing when I’m going in … it’s not to discriminate but to ‘de-criminate’ as much as I can.”
That confidence was something Mr. Miller said he lacked when first applying for the prisons job in 2014.
It’s the same general lack of confidence, of belief in themselves, that Mr. Miller said he notices among some of his peers who apply for scholarships, internships or job opportunities. He said there seems to be the view that if you do not get something the first time out, you have to “try something else.”
“You can try again,” he said. “[A first-time failure] only means that you’re not where you thought you were when you applied for the job. Go again. I’ve failed … quite a few times and I’ve learned if you want it, go for it. You have to be serious about it.”