Transporting prisoners to court can be a stressful situation.
Andrea Stewart has shared that journey with countless young men and women during nine years working as a prisoner custody officer.
But one experience in particular highlighted how young people’s mental health can sometimes be forgotten about.
The death of Zach Banner, 22, in January 2018 hit her hard.
The Easter Ross man took his own life after being remanded in custody.
Three years on, Mrs Stewart has used the relationship she struck up with the “loveable rogue” as inspiration to raise awareness of mental health struggles through the Highland charity Mikeysline.
‘Young people get forgotten about’
Mrs Stewart, who works for GEOAmey in Inverness, said: “I have been in the job for nine years and I used to have a custody who came in who was a lovely, young boy.
“Yeah, he was a criminal – but he was a loveable rogue and he unfortunately committed suicide when he was remanded.
“I was actually at the hospital [when he died] and I was talking to Zach’s family and they were such nice people.
“It touched me that young people kind of get forgotten about. A lot of it is they say they are attention-seeking or looking for someone to let them off with what they have done because they are so young.
“Sometimes it is forgotten that young people do have trouble with mental health, everybody does, and I think especially during lockdown it became more poignant.”
She added: “He had done wrong but he always used to take his punishment. Unfortunately, this time he went into prison and just didn’t come back out and I just think that is so sad because he was so young.”
I speak to everybody the same; whether you are sheriff, a lawyer, a custody or a police officer.”
Mrs Stewart accepts that not all interactions are positive. But she tries to ensure everybody is treated the same – regardless of their status or title.
“Obviously sometimes they are in for some really nasty things but I still try to treat everybody the same,” she added.
“You never know the cases that are going to come through the door, people are so unpredictable.
“You just have to manage people as best you can.
“I speak to everybody the same; whether you are sheriff, a lawyer, a custody or a police officer.”
‘Mikeysline is such a positive charity’
During lockdown, Mrs Stewart formed a support group with her peers to remain active.
It eventually turned into a running club.
Now alongside three other prisoner custody officers – Martine Bushell, Fiona Clark and Kailey Macwilliam – Mrs Stewart will take on a half-marathon to raise funds for both Mikeysline and Highland Hospice.
“Mikeysline is such a positive charity that is local and it would be really nice to raise money for them,” she said.
“We have all had family that have passed away from cancer so we just feel a hospice, especially Highland Hospice, is worthy of raising funds for because everybody is affected by cancer in their lives.
“Sadly, last year Martine’s mum, Kay Mills, passed away from pancreatic cancer.
“Her mum was an active person so it is so fitting that some of her spirit is living on through her doing this.
“I don’t think any of us realised when we started how far a half-marathon actually is, and we are not allowed to do it in the car which is a bit unfortunate – but stupidly we all said yes so we are going to have to do it now.”
The women are putting in their final preparations ahead of their half-marathon on Saturday.
Funds can be donated through the group’s JustGiving page.
Samaritans provides free anonymous and confidential emotional support for people experiencing crisis and distress, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
You can contact Samaritans by phone on 116 123, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to find your nearest branch.