The author sheds light on prison guards

Family therapist and social worker, Bruce Perham has been involved with Melbourne’s maximum security prisons speaking to hundreds of corrections officers and non-prison staff, including those in the western suburbs, over the past decade in his advisory role.

Perham said he started doing this after an employee assistance provider hired him to work with Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) staff.

“The first time I went to a prison was after a prisoner committed suicide,” Perham said.

“I received a call early in the morning to see if I could sit down with officers who had been involved in the aftermath and do a psychological debrief.”

In 2016, he was contacted by a prison operations official, who was concerned about the impact of the prevalence of self-harm among inmates on correctional officers.

Perham launched a program to help officers in high-security prisons deal with trauma and their mental health, which prioritized talking about the worker’s own experiences.

“Probably over the year I’ve had around 450 prison officers for training and I’ve learned so much,” Perham said.

This led Perham to want to raise awareness of the conflictual nature of prison officer jobs and the need to provide them with better support, including post-trauma assistance.

Perham wrote the book Code Blue: Prison Officer in Danger, providing an overview of the profession, without breaking confidentiality or identifying anyone.

“They (prison officers) also don’t get the kudos and public recognition for what they do,” he said.

“As a counselor you hear kind of lived experiences, about sadness and trauma, you hear things that a lot of us don’t hear.

“These are high-stakes things and it changes people’s lives.”

Perham said that around 30 to 40 years ago a culture developed among prison workers of ignoring the psychological impacts of their chosen career, although many people in the workplace now have a mindset. different.

However, Perham said some prison officers he met had developed anxiety from exposure to repeated trauma, not realizing it was a mental health issue that could be diagnostic.

“When you’re in an environment with suicides and brutal prisoner-to-prisoner suicides, the triggers for that can be triggers in the future,” Perham said.

For the book, Perham also interviewed a friend who worked as a prison officer for around 30 years, as well as the man’s wife and adult children.

“He gives a fantastic insight into what he went through at Pentridge and up until a few years ago when there was a death in custody and it was one too many traumas, and he’s never income,” Perham said.

Another aspect of the book is Perham’s experience as a 27-year-old social worker, when he held a job that sparked “a lot of childhood stuff for me.”

Perham said her sister Leanne died aged two and a half, after being diagnosed with leukaemia.

“I wanted to include that to show that I’m not a disconnected professional, I’ve been through this stuff myself, in a different context,” he said.

Perham said he received “great feedback” on his book for prison officers across Australia.

“It’s quite heavy – it’s not as heavy as it could be – some said they could only read it in short bursts,” he said.

Perham said it was important for the community to realize that prison officers care deeply about inmates in correctional facilities.

“They actually provide really good support, protecting prisoners from each other and assaulting them,” he said.

“They are actually dedicated to saving prisoners’ lives and keeping them safe.”

Code Blue: Prison Officer In Danger, RRP $28.50, Details:

For assistance, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit

Lola R. McClure