Ex-prison governor on writing, retirement and baking at Angela Reed
- Credit: Archant
"They say prisoners are institutionalised. Well, so are prison staff after 27 years."
Vanessa Frake retired to Saffron Walden after a 27-year career in HMPs Holloway and Wormwood Scrubs.
She is now a baker at Angela Reed and a Sunday Times bestselling author with her tell-all memoir, The Governor, about working with some of Britain's most notorious criminals.
Some of her most famous inmates included Myra Hindley and Rose West, and years in London's prisons has left a lasting mark.
"I still count people on the tops of buses.
"That was part of our job: counting people, making sure nobody was left behind."
Bedford-born Vanessa visited London in 1986 when she saw an advert which read: 'Your prison service needs you.'
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"I thought, 'I could do that job.'"
"Working in an office doing a nine-to-five was never going to fit my personality.
"And if I had my time again, I would definitely work in the prison service."
Prison was a high pressure environment, as she worked with violent and dangerous criminals on their rehabilitation.
She said: "I came across some fantastic people over that time, and some very nasty people.
"I got to see the good side of people and the bad.
"It's always the sensationalism about corrupt staff, the bad prisoners, people dying in custody.
"We rarely talk about the rehabilitation side of things, the people whose lives we saved."
Vanessa retired in 2012 after receiving an MBE for her work in the prison service, heading up operations at HMP Wormwood Scrubs.
Getting to grips with a change of pace was the hardest part of her career.
"I found retirement very difficult to begin with, finding a new purpose in life.
"The book did help with that - I found it quite cathartic.
"Some of the issues that were in my head when I was at work came to the forefront a bit more, and I worked through them here, so I have a lot to thank Saffron Walden for."
With bestselling success, will we see a second book?
"Possibly not in this genre, but I'd quite like to do a cookbook. Never say never."