3 Questions with … Superintendent Shannon Swain
While education is a year-round endeavor at CDCR, August is recognized as National Back to School Month. To celebrate, CDCR is catching up with various educators throughout the Department, starting with Shannon Swain. Swain is Superintendent of CDCR’s Office of Correctional Education. Here, she shares her passion for correctional education and why CDCR’s educators are exceptional.
What path did you take to arrive at your current position?
I have been involved with Correctional Programming for (gulp!) 38 years. From managing a halfway house for people in county jail in Southern California, I moved north and started teaching in the Contra Costa County jails. I then assumed leadership in education for folks on parole — serving students computerized literacy opportunities and education for students with substance use disorders. When I left as principal of that program, I spent some time as a consultant with the Ministry of Justice in Chile, and had the chance to spend a month training their prison wardens in effective adult learning strategies. After I returned, I was appointed by Governor Brown as Deputy Superintendent, then Superintendent, of the Office of Correctional Education, and reappointed by Governor Newsom.
What are some things that might surprise people to learn about education at CDCR?
I think it might surprise folks to learn that OCE serves ALL incarcerated individuals at every institution, through the Recreation/Physical Fitness Coaches, as well as our incredible legal and recreational libraries. I think it might surprise folks to know that we collaborate with 20 community colleges, four California State Universities, one University of California, one private college, and the only community college I know of that is entirely inside a prison (San Quentin.) We currently have over 15,000 students enrolled in college. Additionally, our Career Technical Education programs all lead to national certifications that allow CTE graduates to transition to high-paying, living wage careers upon their transition to their home communities.
You always have a positive attitude – what is it about correctional education that keeps you smiling?
I feel privileged – every single day – to serve students, patrons, staff, and others by providing the Best Correctional Education system in the WORLD! The way our students are taking the risk to learn and to grow inspires me, as do the incredible correctional professionals who model and mentor and share their gifts and talents. This may sound hokey, however, I am a breast cancer survivor, and I truly feel lucky to be alive, so every day is a gift for which I am so, so grateful. I try hard to always assume positive intent, and perhaps it is my four children to have taught me to separate the behavior from the person. Finally, my faith helps a LOT; when I leave my place of worship the last thing I see as I drive out of the parking lot is “Let the Service Begin.” So be it!
In our Institutions
‘The atmosphere is very different here’: BBQs, dog park at Valley State Prison
Last Saturday marked the grand opening of Valley State Prison’s In-Person Picnic. Friends and family members of incarcerated people can now sign up for the In-Person Picnics through Visiting. Picnics are scheduled to be held Fridays and Saturdays during normal visiting hours.
VSP recently installed six sets of barbecue grills, picnic tables, and shade canopies. Food packages are available for purchase and incarcerated people can now grill food as their loved ones play a game of corn hole or hang out under the shade, all during their assigned visit.
G. Gouda praised VSP administrative staff for making In-Person Picnics a reality. “This picnic idea is awesome,” he shared. “It gives the incarcerated population something to look forward to and it serves as a reminder of how things can be, once they parole. Being with family is so important and seeing them is what keeps me going. During the picnic I felt like I was at home with my family, I almost forgot that I was still in prison.”
CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison visited VSP recently to check out the improvements, including touring the Youth Offender Program and the on-site dog park for the institution’s dog-training program.
“The atmosphere is very different here,” shared A. Barahona, who enjoyed the picnic with his mother. “The staff is great, and the programs offered here make VSP the best prison in California. I loved barbecuing at parties for my entire family, and I was always the guy on the grill. Today was very special for me, I didn’t feel like I was an inmate, I felt like I was back at home grilling for my mom. Today’s entire visiting experience was really uplifting for me and my mom.”
VSP staff worked hard as a team in preparation for the event. Warden L. Bird and Chief Deputy Warden M. McVay participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Participating families voiced their gratitude and appreciation to both Warden Bird and CDW McVay for innovating the entire visiting experience.
PBSP garden enriches lives
Pelican Bay State Prison’s (PBSP) Facility D population recently donated six fruit trees to the College of the Redwoods community garden to show support in the community.
The gardening club on the Level 2 facility has flourished. It has been a collaboration with local College of the Redwoods instructors who come to PBSP to share knowledge of gardening and the science behind a successful garden. Participants work with emphasizing responsibility, accountability, compassion, patience, and teamwork. Ultimately, the program seeks to teach PBSP residents skills for reentry in to society and finding hobbies that will keep them on the right track.
To date, the garden club has spread to numerous building on Facility D and includes plants, vegetables, fruits, and even spices. The garden is one of many programs offered at PBSP that has flourished and continues to grow.
San Quentin News earns seven state journalism awards
The San Quentin News was honored with seven awards this year from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). The annual California Journalism Awards recognize excellence in journalism throughout the state.
“We are honored to receive this recognition from the California News Publishers Association as their interest in the work of our writers draws attention to the importance of humanizing and elevating the voices of the incarcerated,” shared Jesse Vasquez of Friends of San Quentin News.
The journalists honored by CNPA include: Editor-in-Chief Marcus Henderson for editorial commentary, writers Charles Crow and Edwin Chavez for their coverage of youth and education, contributing writer Steve Brooks for his sports coverage, and Senior Editor Juan Moreno Haines for his coverage of mental health wellness in prison.
Reentry program holds special family event
The Male Community Reentry Program (MCRP) in Los Angeles (LA3) recently hosted a Family Movie Night for the participants and their loved ones. All were allowed to participate and each participant was allowed to have one approved adult visitor and their children attend.
The theme was “Outdoor Camping” and the special evening includes popcorn, cotton candy, Hawaiian shaved ice, and s’mores. GEO Reentry Services donated the treats and both faculty and participants decorated the backyard with camp “fires,” tents and grass. The children made s’mores to their hearts’ content and some adults were also witnessed sporting chocolate mustaches.
After everyone’s candy cravings were satisfied, families and friends gathered by the campfires and tents to enjoy a family movie outdoors on a giant screen. The children played with their fathers and enjoyed a fun night of bonding over a campfire, shared treats, and a movie. The event was well received by the participants and their families, and many children could be heard asking when they could do this again.
Celebrating successes at CCTRP
The Custody-to-Community Transitional Reentry Program (CCTRP) in Bakersfield hosted an award ceremony for its participants, honoring their completion of an eight-week session. The subject matter covered consisted of topics including Substance Abuse, Victims Impact, Anger Management, etc. Certificates were presented to the participants by their assigned counselor.
2nd Chance Tour stops at Pelican Bay, High Desert
Pelican Bay State Prison’s (PBSP) Facility D had the privilege of having a nationally known prison minister and musician, along with Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), provide a concert. The same group visited High Desert State Prison a few days prior for an event that included about 25 incarcerated people.
CJ Orndorff’s visit was part of TBN’s 2nd Chance Tour, which is intended to restore and rebuild lives while reducing recidivism with messages that inspire, challenge, and encourage. The concert went well at both institutions and the 2nd Chance group was very thankful and happy for the participation, along with the hospitality the institutions provided.
Agents help keep community safe during Operation Safe Summer
Central District parole units recently participated in Fresno County’s “Operation Safe Summer,” a multi-agency partnership to focus on parole and probation compliance checks throughout the county.
These compliance checks were conducted in popular recreational destinations, including Millerton Lake, Friant, and Shaver Lake to ensure safe, crime-free environments for families and individuals enjoying summer pastimes in those areas. Thanks to the hard work of partner agencies and Parole Agents Nate Arsenault and Jose Rodriguez, multiple citations, searches and arrests made this operation a success and led to a safer environment for the community to enjoy.
Tristan Lemon has been assigned Acting Warden at Pleasant Valley State Prison.
Thomas Valdez has been appointed Chief Deputy Warden at California City Correctional Facility.
Steve Smith has been appointed Chief Deputy Warden, Sierra Conservation Center.
Sylvia Dumalig has been named new Chief of Offender and Family Solutions (OFS). Dumalig has been with the state of California for about 22 years, 14 years with CDCR. She became an Information Technology Manager I in 2015, and has led teams in Infrastructure Services, Unified Communications, and Offender and Family Solutions. Most recently in OFS, Dumalig led the new Offender Communications and Technology Solution procurement for CDCR as well as the planning and implementation of the Technology for Inmates Participating in Academic Programs expansion.
Rob Calderon has been assigned Acting Deputy Director of Peace Officer Selection and Employee Development.
In the Media
U.S. Army Spc. John McMahan, a military police specialist with the 49th Military Police Brigade is one of many Soldiers in the National Guard who struggles with finding a good civilian job while maintaining a military career.
Today is a new day, as 49th Military Police Brigade senior leaders gave McMahan a new opportunity. On July 16, The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation set up a recruiting event for Soldiers just like McMahan.
“This seems like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said McMahan. “I’m looking for a good career to get into and this uses my military police experience which I love.”
The first step for McMahan to become a correctional officer is to sit for the qualifying exam. There are multiple steps that can take a normal person two years, but McMahan will not have to struggle like them because of his Guardsman status. Read the full story.
Uncuffed is KALW’s award-winning podcast hosted by people in San Quentin and Solano State Prisons. The first season since the pandemic began features stories of struggle and resilience through the COVID pandemic, including a hunger strike to protest life-threatening conditions, family relationships rekindled over letters, and even – despite all odds – a wedding.
Uncuffed Season 2 also explores alternatives to the American system of mass incarceration. After three Uncuffed hosts are released from San Quentin, they travel to Norway and tour prisons designed with re-entry as the top priority. They speak with incarcerated Norwegians and find out what’s working, and what isn’t, in a system that Californian officials consider a model for reform. Read the full story.
A formerly incarcerated person qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2019 while running laps in the prison yard. Now, Markelle Taylor is sharing how he was given a new starting line in life in the upcoming documentary “26.2 to Life: The San Quentin Prison Marathon.”
Taylor, 49, is gearing up for the Chicago Marathon this fall by running on the streets of California. But for nearly 18 years, he could only dream of that kind of training from his window at San Quentin State Prison.
“I didn’t think I would ever get out,” Taylor told CBS News lead national correspondent David Begnaud. Read the full story.
The Children’s Center of the Antelope Valley, also known as CCAV, has a stock of hundreds of cuddly stuffed dogs to help comfort children in its programs, thanks to a donation from inmate organizations at California State Prison-Los Angeles County in Lancaster.
The men who organized the donation are part of the Progressive Programming Facility at the prison, as well as the Paws 4 Life K9 Rescue, a program in which the men train dogs to be service animals and to make them more easily adoptable. Read the full story.