Making a difference where it counts
Men have always worked in prisons and for years, only a few women have been recruited as prison officers, but numbers are slowly on the rise.
Meet Pasimaca Osment, known to many as Pam, the first Fijian woman to work at Paremoremo prison, and currently stationed at Mt Eden prison.
“I was stationed at a Psychiatric Unit and High-Risk Unit where violent offenders are housed, a maximum-security prison for men”, says Pam.
For 29 years, Pam has served in the Department of Corrections.
She became the first female Pacific corrections officer to be hired to work in a prison, and the first woman to work in maximum security, where she has been stationed for 26 years.
Pam is a nurse by profession, but having five children she needed to work.
She pled her case to the Department of Corrections, and despite being a woman, she got offered the job.
Pam worked her way up and is now a Principal Corrections Officer. She has earned enormous respect from her Pacific colleagues and within the Department.
“The work itself involves a real mind shift,” says Pam.
“Some prisoners have been disowned by their families. Some of them are shameful for their wrongful acts, so our roles extend to pastoral care.”
“When I see families unite, forgiveness plays a big part, it’s a painful process to watch but at the same time is gratifying seeing families caring for their loved ones.”
“I’m known inside the prison as Mama. Respect plays a big part in how I work and I have zero tolerance for swearing.”
“I advocate strongly for women, one of the reasons I wanted to work in prisons, and I also want to see with my own eyes why there’s a lot of violence directed towards women, which has landed most of these men in prison.”
“I love my job; I love dealing with people.”
“It’s the community engagement aspect of my role that is self-fulfilling.”
“We operate in a small but tightly-knit community in New Zealand.”
Pam talked about some of the offenders she knows, and their families and parents.
“There are times I have come across someone I know, or their family. I can’t help it but to put on my mother’s hat and make sure I never see them back again in prison.”
She was in tears when talking about an incident that united a prisoner their family. It shows how much passion Pam has for her work.
“We have a programme called Saili Matagi, a Samoan concept meaning searching the wind, delivered in a Pacific way, using prisoners’ first language for communication.”
The programme targets male prisoners who are serving a sentence for violent offences.
Pam says the programme has been successful teaching a range of skills to enable participants to change their attitudes and behaviours and reduce the likelihood of them re-offending.
“It is more than just a programme. It involves family and community groups taking part in the participants’ rehabilitation and reintegration.”
Pam has worked hard to promote the Department of Corrections as a career.
In the recent Fijian Language Week celebrations, Pam advocated strongly for the Department and was part of the Department stall, along with other Pacific staff who voluntarily took part in language activities to make the community aware of their role.
“Many of our people prefer to work in factories and other low paying jobs, but we have good careers in Corrections NZ.”
“I love coming out to Pacific events to make our community aware of the work we do.”
It came to a surprise to many people to see a Pacific woman fronting a male dominated occupation.
Ola Tupouniua-Vaka, Department of Corrections Practise Leader says Pacific constitute 12% of the population in prison.
“Pacific Islanders are the third largest ethnicity in prison. Maori constitutes a high number followed by European.”
“Our role is reducing reoffending but also in training our staff.”
“We have about 400 Pacific staff working in the northern region, from Franklin in Pukekohe to Kaitaia, but we need more of our Pacific people to apply.”
“Pam is one of our oldest serving Pacific staff and she is well respected in the workplace.”
As women represent a growing percentage of the corrections workforce, they demonstrate that it is the skill and individual’s contribution, and not the gender, which makes for a successful and valuable corrections professional.
Concerning Pam’s story, she is a Pacific star and an unsung hero for all the hard work she does.