A correctional officer is one of those jobs that most people just don’t know too much about. However, Harrison Hot Springs resident, former correctional officer and now author Neil MacLean is hoping to change that.
MacLean is the author of Serving Life 25, One Guard’s Story, a tell-all style book about his time working as a correctional officer and correctional manager at Kent, Matsqui, Mountain and Mission Institutions.
MacLean has been working on the book since his retirement in 2014 and is currently finishing up the final touches.
“I’m more editing than writing,” he said. “The stories are done. There are 89,000 words, 114 stories, and 13 chapters and every time I go and edit I add a little more.”
The idea to write the book sparked from a simple writing exercise that was assigned after a PTSD diagnosis, but quickly spiraled into a much larger project.
“I started out going to my psychologist and she suggested that I start writing some notes,” MacLean explained. “My notes turn into stories and obsessions and details and it’s just taken off.”
And the more MacLean has worked on his book, the more it’s evolved.
“It went from a memoir to a nonfiction and now it’s more of creative nonfiction,” he explained.
But the creative nonfiction aspect is now essential to the book, especially with the amount of different stories that MacLean includes.
“What I found the most interesting and why I think this book will be good is because I drilled down so deep and found so many stories,” he said. “Everybody has a back story and in my profession, some of the backstories are pretty horrendous, the murders and suicides.”
While these backstories may be horrendous, they not only make for great reading material but also offer a glimpse into the lives of correctional officers and what happens behind the locked gates of prisons in the area.
Some of the events that MacLean writes about, such as the 2008 riots at Mountain Institution, may be familiar to readers.
“It was scary,” he said. “They’re like frothing dogs and they’re coming up the hill at you and they’ve got everything; they’ve got balaclavas on, they’ve got broom handles that are sharpened and they’re out to stab.”
But even the stories that aren’t familiar are still intriguing, even more so because they’re close to home.
“What I like about this thing is that it’s all just down the road – Cemetery Road,” MacLean said.
MacLean didn’t expect for the book to attract as much attention as it has already, especially with the release date not for another eight months.
“I’ve had lots of feedback from all over North America, from retired guards, and just from people that have found my Facebook page and started asking questions,” he said. “I was surprised at the huge interest in it. I’m kind of excited. I didn’t realize it would be this interesting.”
Currently, MacLean is focussing on publishing his first book, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t already planning another.
“I’ve already got a second book planned and I’m also looking at getting a literary agent to sell the second book idea to Hollywood,” he said. “It’s really kind of mushroomed into a business, although that’s not what this is about.”
“I think we need to appreciate what the job is about. It’s often looked down upon, but it’s a tough job,” he continued. “I want people to care; I want them to understand what it’s like to be a correctional officer.”
Serving Life 25, One Guard’s Story will be going to publication in January, with a tentative release date of May 2017.