Graham Beck’s sees his career as divided into three clear sections - practising psychologist, prison programmes manager and now as Governor of HMP Kirkham
However, all of them are united in his mind by Lancaster University and the passion for understanding the mind which his studies there ignited in him.
Working for the first time in his career in an open prison, he is dealing with men preparing for release, sometimes after long sentences in higher-security institutions and he does not want to see them back inside. The evidence says that the best way is to ensure that prisoners develop a sense of personal responsibility and citizenship, reconnect with family and communities, gain employment and somewhere suitable to live and stay free from drug and alcohol addiction.
So Graham has introduced a unique three-stage process called Bridge To Change to prepare them to leave. Each prisoner has to complete each stage before they are considered ready for life outside Kirkham.
Kirkham is a category D training prison occupying the site of a former RAF technical training centre. His own role of Governor is a very exposed role, with a huge responsibility to shape the institution to provide the best futures for the 657 men in his charge.
Psychology is a critical part of everything he does, but Graham freely admits: “If you had told me whilst I was at Lancaster that as a result of my Psychology Studies would end up as a Prison Governor, I would just have laughed.”
Brought up in Derbyshire, Lancaster University happened to him rather than being part of a plan. After messing up his A levels, he took a number of additional A levels at a local FE college, and then spent three years in a Local Authority Town Planning Department, which gave him an appetite to study and qualify as a teacher.
Lancaster then offered an Educational Studies degree, for which he was accepted and Psychology seemed a logical partner subject. It rapidly took over, particularly the linguistics that he did in his third year, so he ended up graduating in Psychology and Education Studies (Combined) “That was a real eye opener. It gave me a real fascination for the way that people tick and for the whole nature/nurture debate.”
As a mature student of 22, Graham had no difficulty in fitting in with the younger undergraduates. He thrived in an atmosphere where a joy of study was the norm and was stimulated by the balance of lectures and seminars, particularly the teaching of Professor Leslie Smith on Piaget, Vygotsky and Noam Chomsky.
His final project explored the depiction of emotion in visual arts and he says: ”The research methods and statistical analyses have stayed with me for the rest of my life.”
His second year was very difficult. He missed most of it to be with his mother who had cancer. She urged him to go back because she wanted to see him graduate. He says: ”I did, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I was just lucky that I had a good social life and family to support me.”
Much of his social life centred around music - playing bass guitar in a band, which played at the Sugar House as support to the band ' The Men They Could Not Hang.'
The classroom was still a pull for Graham after he graduated and he gained a teaching certificate from Roehampton University. He thought his career lay in Further Education teaching, when he saw an advert to attract people to the prison service, with fully-funded study for a Master’s degree in Forensic Psychology. The degree opportunity alone was enough to make him apply.
Once accepted, he says he was ‘grabbed’ by the closed world. He says: “Prison is not what it seems and there is a real sense of optimism and hope as well as camaraderie and pride in the service.” The MSc in Applied Criminological Psychology he acquired at Birkbeck College along the way was a bonus.
His first jobs were as a Forensic Psychologist at HMP Maidstone and then HMP Garth, before moving on to managerial roles including Head of Reducing Reoffending for the North West Area Office. After completing the Senior Prison Manager Programme in 2007, he took a post at Lancaster Farms Young Offenders Institution, before becoming Deputy Governor at HMP Haverigg. He has been Governor at HMP Kirkham since 2013.
“It’s a tough job,” he admits. “Every role in a prison requires resilience.” But he sees his work as ultimately optimistic. He is inspired by examples of colleagues commended for saving people’s lives, rescuing people from crises like hostage takings, as well as life-long drug addicts becoming clean.
Apart from daily management meetings to check on safety and incidents, a big part of his daily role is to see and be seen round the institution. He also spends time building up links between the prison and community, including the police and the courts, Local Authorities and MPs.
The invaluable lesson he learned from his Lancaster studies is confidence. He says. “Part of my leadership function is to encourage, support and model confidence. One thing you cannot have in prison is staff without confidence.”