Rodney L.


I grew up in Crescent City, California, riding my bicycle by Pelican Bay State Prison, going to school. Prison's kind of always been around my life. I started work at Pelican Bay State Prison as an officer, and promoted to Sergeant there. And, I watched guys that we had out of the SHU (Secure Housing Unit) program that were being released straight out of the SHU Program onto the streets. And, it always kind of stuck with me like "what are we doing for these guys? Or what kind of environment are we sending them out of back onto society?" And, the way the department's moving now, we're really working to create an environment where individuals have opportunities to change themselves. We're allowing them programs and allowing them to take their lives back into their own control through those programs. So, I think that's a good thing.

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Cerro Coso College has come in. We’ve got our first few inmates who are going to be receiving their Associate of Arts degree. We’ve got inside out writers. We’ve got volunteers that come in on the weekends. Arts and corrections. We’ve got drawing classes. So, we have some good outlets for them. Right now though, I’m still in a transition where I don’t have a good vocation program to put inmates into, so they can learn some good skills. But, we’re working on that. That’s very close to getting started.

I see a lot stronger interests from the outside. We have a lot more volunteers come in, and I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s good for people to see what happens on the inside. It’s not as black and white as people think.

The position I’m in now, I’m the Facility B captain. It can be a very rewarding position. But, it can also be extremely frustrating. The inmate population that we have, the 180 design, level IV SNY (Sensitive Needs Yards), is a very volatile inmate population. So, I’ve got guys that are really trying to change their lives. And, I’ve got some that they’re young and they just really don’t know what path they’re on.

But, I do have inmates on this facility. I mean, there’s inmates that I’ve met, early in my career at, at Pelican Bay that they were about the bad choices, and the violence, and promoting the gangs. And, I’ve seen them change. And, I’ve seen them now guys that I…

When I think of rehabilitation, I think of them. That’s who I think of, and really hope that they’re going to make it out, even with life sentences. I think those are the type of people that can make it out. They have good family support, and they’ve realized that the choices they’ve made in life weren’t the best. But, they take responsibility for those choices, and are moving forward.

Really, our role is to provide the environment for that to occur in. Like I said, it can be an extremely violent environment for them. And, our job is to try and prevent that violence, and give the ones that have made that choice for rehabilitation, give them the environment they can do that in.

This facility, I’ve been the captain of this facility for a little over two years. It’s one of the most violent facilities in the state. I’m trying to work with the inmate populations to find ways to make this a better environment for them to live in.

Unfortunately, there still is a gang problem, even on the SNY side. These are inmates that have left the general population, because of safety concerns or they’ve dropped out of the, what people normally know as, gangs. So, your Southern Hispanics, your Northern Hispanics, your Aryan Brotherhood, Mexican Mafia. So, they’ve left that side, and they’ve come to this SNY side, where they’ve renounced those gangs. Because it’s what they know. That’s what they grew up with, of creating these groups that still do illegal activities. So, the drug smuggling and batteries.

And so, we have that element alongside the element that left the other side that does want to change and wants the program. The tough ones though are the inmates that are generally afraid of these gangs. And so, they see their outlet is attacking staff.

Those are my worst days, is when we have our staff members attacked, because inmates feel like they don’t have any other choice. When they do, they just don’t know how to deal with those situations. 

We are working on mental health, and getting a crisis intervention team to try and give those inmates in those crisis a way to work through their problems other than violence against staff.

My most rewarding times, other than the successes of our staff, is when I’ve put inmates up for transfer that have programmed well, and I see them go into a lower level. Might have a few out here on the facility now that I’m really hoping that someday I’ll get to shake their hand as a free person, even with a life sentence where they’re at, because there are a few on the facility that I have no doubt that they would be… They’d be good to go back, and be back in society, and function, and be a good member.

Not just having a good job, but being there for their families, being there when their parents get old, and need someone to help take care of them, or being there for siblings, being there for birthday parties. But, not being the boogeyman on the corner. Being the predator that’s looking for their next victim. I think that is a really good goal that we should have is not putting people that are going to create more victims up back out there.