Beyond the Badge

CIW Captain Spinney helps coworker become citizen

Two men with one holding a certificate of American citizenship.
CIW Captain Joseph Spinney congratulates Werner Ruiz, right, on achieving his American citizenship in 2019.

A casual conversation at a party ended up fulfilling one man’s dream of becoming an American citizen, thanks to the help of California Institution for Women (CIW) Captain Joseph Spinney.

Growing up in Guatemala, Werner Ruiz always felt a connection to the U.S., often traveling with his grandmother to visit family in America.

In 2000, he moved to the United States. His father was already a citizen so the younger Ruiz obtained a work permit and became a resident. Eventually, that turned into becoming a permanent resident.

Even as a child, he was familiar with English, thanks to a global animated superstar of the rodent variety.

Werner Ruiz holding citizenship paper with wife and two small daughters
CALPIA Healthcare Facilities Maintenance worker Werner Ruiz and his family.

“When I was younger I would watch the Mickey Mouse Club and fell in love with the English language,” he said. “When I would visit relatives in America, a different feeling would come over me.”

On Sept. 24, 2019, Ruiz, a Healthcare Facilities Maintenance (HFM) worker for the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) at the California Institution for Women (CIW), woke up with a feeling of pride, as this was the day he would become a U.S. citizen.

Why did he wait? He said family obligations had prevented him from starting the Naturalization process. Since moving to America, he’d fallen in love and started a family, becoming the father of three children.

“I had no idea a casual conversation while attending a Super Bowl party would change my life,” he recalls.

Ruiz and CIW Captain Joseph Spinney made small talk at the party. Ruiz discussed his desire to become an American citizen and the challenge of trying to provide for his family as well as work toward citizenship.

Inspired by Ruiz’s love of America, Spinney offered to help.

“I felt it was my moral duty to act,” Spinney said.

Thus, Ruiz’s journey began with Spinney assisting in the process.

Nearly 20 years after moving to America, Ruiz held up his right hand and took the Citizenship Naturalization Oath, officially becoming a citizen.

As Ruiz was sworn in, CIW Captain Spinney watched with pride.

“I felt humbled and honored to be in the presence of so many people desiring to take the oath to be a U.S. citizen. I have to say it is one of my most memorable moments in my life being there and witnessing Werner and his family finish this incredibly courageous journey,” said Spinney.

The Correctional Captain said he found the experience rewarding.

“I encourage people to find it within themselves to reach out. Listen to folks and where there is an opportunity to assist others and they have the ability, just do it as you won’t regret it,” he said.

Ruiz expressed gratitude for Spinney’s help.

“Not a lot of people would help you so it was an honor and a surprise,” said Ruiz. “I know where his heart is and I accepted it but I was also in shock.

As far as his citizenship, “Words cannot express the feeling of feeling like you belong. I am married and have my children and this is home,” he said.

By Lt. Rosie Thomas

Read more tributes to staff and retirees who have passed away.

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