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A Day in the Life of an Offending Behaviour Group work Facilitator

In our new series we will be featuring articles that focus on a ‘day in the life’ of people working in a variety of services and organisations across Ayrshire, whose dedication and efforts are key to reducing reoffending and improving outcomes for people caught up in the Justice system, their families, victims, and the community as a whole.

We would like to thank Mark from Serco at HMP Kilmarnock for sharing his story with us.

Mark works within the secure walls of HMP Kilmarnock in his role as an Offending Behaviour Group work Facilitator within the Psychology and Interventions Team.   His current role is within an offender management setting where the aim is to rehabilitate and avoid recidivism.  Mark states in his experience the following factors are crucial in making lasting change: stable employment, meaningful intimate relationships, maturation, shift in self-identity, interpersonal skills, enhanced life skills and coping strategies.

The group work sessions cover a range of topics including anger management, interpersonal skills, substance misuse, emotion management, self-esteem building, victim empathy, coping strategies, motivation, and support. The aim of these sessions is to show how thoughts, feelings and behaviours are linked and to further identify the risk factors pertaining to each individual. Mark supports a variety of people in prison that range from having personality disorders, mental health problems, lack of effective emotional management and the difficult behaviours associated with prison life.

Mark’s career has drastically changed over the past 13 years, with his background originally in engineering, he is now working at the centre of behavioural change within a custodial setting. On this journey Mark has witnessed first-hand the barriers that can exist for people who have tried to make lasting and meaningful change in areas where they have lacked in development opportunities. This lack of opportunities can lead to criminality and people choosing a lifestyle that can lead to prolonged periods in custody.

Having worked with many individuals over the years, Mark has helped them to identify personal strengths and talents that they were unable to use effectively, or they were low in self-esteem and self-efficacy. Having learned to be flexible in his approach, recognising that what works for one person may not work for another, Mark finds this part of the assessment process interesting and helps him with his own self-discovery.  That was one reason he changed from working with machines to working with people.

“COVID has affected the wider world and naturally it has created a different dynamic in an already difficult environment”

A typical day

A typical day is never typical but an example of my favourite type of day would begin with setting up the room for group work, preparing the session and how it will be delivered. The sessions include the use of discussions, written work, visual aids, and explorative activities to deliver and promote self-discovery. My role and that of my co-facilitator is to ensure that the sessions have direction and that the learning aims are met.

After the session is complete, we need to debrief and reflect on the session and our own observations and work through any difficulties or problems. We also reflect on our own thoughts about the session and practice self-care to allow any traumatic topics to be discussed. We record a detailed note for each participant on their conduct, awareness of the topics and any relevant information that will be used to formulate a post programme report. The post programme report will be used to inform any decision-making process about the person’s suitability to move to an open prison or their chance of parole.

My other duties include those of a Prison Officer which can see me search individuals and be used in any incidents of disorder or indiscipline.

The difficulties affecting my work at the moment

COVID has affected the wider world and naturally it has created a different dynamic in an already difficult environment. This has seen a change in the way our work can be delivered, and we were proud to be the first team to deliver a full accredited Offending Behaviour Programme in the UK during the pandemic.  This was only made possible by adapting our working practices to ensure the necessary measures were put in place to manage social distancing and limit the potential spread of COIVD.

“I know my role is not to tell but more to show others and the group work aspect promotes this through peer learning”

One thing I wish I had known when I started out

I have learned to identify the similarities between myself and people I work with but the paths that we have undertaken to get here have been so different.  Seeing people of a similar age, who have experienced a similar background to myself has made me analyse the risks posed during a childhood in Scotland.  How we can all be exposed to unemployment, violence from an early age, gender stereotypes and the impact of peer loyalty. The normalisation of substance use and the social expectations of what make you a man. The times where emotions should be hidden and how this creates damaged adults from these scared children.  I wish I had learned the true cost of these life events sooner and I would have embarked on a career in this field at an earlier stage. I know my role is not to tell but more to show others and the group work aspect promotes this through peer learning. I have learned so much about myself from seeing myself in others.

The not so nice parts of my job

As with many aspects of the criminal justice system being judged on the supposed failures due to what can be termed as a ‘revolving door’ can be demotivating. To make my peace with this, I believe it’s more about increments of change, as opposed to complete and full change. To go from a chaotic life to one of stability, there can only be so much change at any given time.  There will be mistakes and lessons learned, and this will unfortunately see some return to custody. The experiential learning that can be gained from these moments can further the change and can move an individual towards their long-term goals.

I have never spoken with many people again that I have worked with, or I have had the chance to speak to some away from the walls, bars, and locks. For those I have never seen again this is an indication of silent success and the memory that keeps me motivated and positive about my role. Those who update me on their progress often begins with optimism and hope and of struggle and sacrifice. These stories are universal as we all struggle and grow, laugh, and cry as life is never the adventure we would choose at times.

The future

One of the reasons I embarked on a career in the Prison Service was to learn and grow. I felt that machinery and systems could be mastered in the Submarine Service, that physics has rules and laws that could be observed. The human difference between those that served were always far more complex, the situations that made one man thrive where others were left devastated interested me. What person can say they can predict how another person will react and how they will cope? What human has mastered all other humans? These questions are the reasons why I can never be truly happy with where I am but also the driving force behind why I strive to learn more.

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