This Asian woman is having quite a time in a Canadian prison

I can’t imagine how it feels to be free of your face mask, face shield, goggles and PPE after 12 hours – 5 days a week. My friend Erika (not her real name) is not a medical frontliner, but this is her work attire since the pandemic erupted. Her skin around the mouth is breaking out from being under the face mask that long.

Standing at 5’3” and weighing around 120 lbs., Erika is one of a few female prison guards in a prison for males somewhere in Canada.

Working in a PPE, she has to schedule her food and water intake. She can’t even pee as often as she needs because of the whole exercise of taking off her gear and putting them all back on. Which is why she doesn’t drink water or coffee as much during her shift, the longest of which is 12 hours straight. Just like nurses and doctors, only she’s guarding active inmates who can get violent at any given moment.

Erika wears complete protective gear from head to toe for 12 hours straight.
Photo by Matilda Wormwood on

I first met Erika in an advertising agency. She’s soft-spoken, but can get really loud when she’s excited. She enunciates swear words to emphasize a point, which is actually more charming than offensive. She doesn’t mince words and can make you uncomfortable, but her soft and calm voice can hide the impact. She was the first “babaeng bakla” (a female who speaks the language of gay men) that I met. 

Erika was a mountaineer and a sprinter (she “trained” me when I ran my first and only 400-m dash for an inter-agency competition), an animal lover, a humanitarian. It has been around 30 years since we last saw each other. I looked up to her then, and I admire her even more now for the stories she recently shared via a virtual call.

Next page: Before she became a jail guard

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