Life Behind Bars: Prison Nurse

If you ask the common man his main fear, it’s going to Prison. But for Courtney Frederick, entering Prison each day is part of her job.

Courtney is a Prison Nurse. And it’s a growing breed. An average salary for a Federal Prison Nurse starts at around $55,000 but can go up from there, especially if you‘re a traveling Nurse.

We sat down with Courtney for a one on one, on what it’s like to be behind bars 10 hours a day with some of America’s toughest and most wanted criminals.

Courtney started in Nursing where she worked as a Nurses assistant, before jumping into Nursing School at 18. ‘If anything, Nursing School preps you for anything in life. Wanna know why Nurses are so tough? It’s most likely Nursing School’. It was the long tough days of Nursing School that Courtney felt prepped her for a job behind bars. ‘I’ve always felt comfortable in the chaos, more of a challenging environment is what drives me. I’ve tried working in a clinic and it wasn’t for me, so when the opportunity came up to work in a Prison, I jumped at the chance’.

Tell us Courtney, How did you get into Prison Nursing?

Honestly, a friend got me into it. Would I have ever considered it if I wasn’t tough skinned? Absolutely not. But, like I said, I feel Nursing School set me up for the job.

What was it like on your first day?

I was excited and ready to go. Again, just something about the challenge was driving me to get in there and get the job done. I travel between 7 different prisons in California, so it’s definitely unique.

How do you prep for a job behind bars? What do they tell you when you’re going through training?

We don’t really get prepped on what to do, more so on not what to do. I.e. never get between a prisoner and a door, because you’ll likely be taken down. The Scrubs protocol is the scariest, because it extends to clothing in your every day life. For instance, we can’t wear blue or green scrubs, because that’s the color inmates and guards could wear, so you’ve always got to be separated.

Probably the most scariest aspect is getting in and out of the Prison. Regardless of the scrub color, we can’t wear matching tops and bottoms, and this goes for our own clothes too. I work in a maximum security prison, so we have the worst of the worst. The majority of external guards are in the tower with guns, ready to shoot down what might be an escapee. So while we’re walking from the prison gate to the parking lot, we have to look distinguishable, otherwise we could be gunned down. This goes for visitors too! That’s pretty crazy.

Have you ever been attacked?

I haven’t. To be honest, the inmates aren’t really the issue inside a prison. I get more attitude from the guards than the prisoners. Probably because they’re on ‘guard’ all day and dealing with criminals. But, for the most part, they treat me well.

So what is Security like getting into the Prison?

Well, when you first start your job you have to go through all types of security. I had a background check from the FBI. Getting into the jail for work each day isn’t so much of a problem, but getting out can take time. For instance they check our person, hair and head to make sure nothing is being smuggled out and they check the trunk of your car. It’s pretty extensive.

What type of injuries are you usually dealing with?

My job usually involves mass vaccinations, there are a lot of diseases in Prison, i.e. Hepatitis, HIV etc and so it’s important to ensure those are under control. I can spend a week doing a mass vaccination on tens of thousands of inmates, one in, one out. That’s usually a big part of the job.

Other than that it’s usually the guards that are being injured, but they have to be taken off site due to workers comp rules. In terms of inmate injuries, just usually cuts and scrapes, but again due to disease control it’s more a case of finding out where that cut came from, how it happened etc.

Do you deal with any violent attacks?

No, but the sad part of this is, if an attack happens then it’s usually fatal. Just last week we had 3 inmates who were part of a white supremacy gang. They turned on each other and unfortunately all ended up dead. If someone’s getting attacked in jail, it usually ends up that way. The alarm goes off regularly, but if there’s a death, the body is taken away from the prison, I don’t deal with it.

I have been placed on lockdown a few times. A couple of weeks ago we had an escapee and we were ordered to be locked down in our room. Fortunately I’ve never been attacked.

What’s been your toughest challenge?

I love my job, Pelican State Prison is actually my favorite prison to go to, mainly because of the room they set us up in. It has a view of trees and the outside. But really, the toughest part is being away from home. I have a boyfriend and not seeing him regularly is tough.

You’re involved in Beach Body and your Instagram profile is @FitLittleNurse, tell us more about how you keep healthy with such an ‘on the road’ lifestyle.

As a travel nurse I get an allowance for food each day. It would be so easy to be lavish each night, eating at restaurants, but I portion out my food, go to grocery stores and make sure I’m eating as well as I can.

I also travel with two sets of small weights and a resistance band, so in the event that the Hotel I’m staying at doesn’t have a gym, I can do a quick 30 minute exercise in my room. I always do the workout immediately after work too, otherwise I’d never do it. I also stick on the Beach Body workout, it’s like having a trainer in my hotel room, so it makes it easier.

What’s next for you?

I’d love to work in my local County Jail. I’m not sure how or when it will happen, but that’s my dream. It will keep me closer to home, my boyfriend and my local town.


Scrubs Staff


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One Response to Life Behind Bars: Prison Nurse

  1. Shellhern

    I’m glad that you wrote a story about prison nursing , but this persons perspective is very puppies and rainbows, I thought the point of an article is to get the truth. How can you never respond as a nurse to inmates???? I’ve seen so many homicides, riots, fights that we have to respond to. Scrubs being the most challenging part of prepping for the job? Nowhere did she mention alarms we have to personal carry or keys or whistles or wearing stab proof vests spit masks or even gas masks during cell extractions , I too worked at a level 4 maximum security prison. @scrubsmag would love to sit down with you and get another view on this piece, the title of this story can easily be changed to “how to be a traveling prison nurse and keep in shape” not “life behind bars” it takes hours of training nothing that nursing school will prepare you for, mass vaccinations is true, but it’s getting over 300 inmates you care for daily in one shift, while responding to alarms and medicating your yard…
    security???? – I don’t know about them checking your hair I’ve worked at 3 they make you go through metal detectors, show your bags , check you for contraband before and after your shift. Like I said would love to get this story re vamped I’d your interested. I’m going to share this story on my FB page I’m excited to see the responses I get from my fellow prison nurses
    Thank you for your time
    Rochelle Hernandez RN