Beyond the Badge

CIW Captain helps coworker become U.S. citizen

Two men stand in a busy building. One is holding a certificate.
Correctional Capt. Spinney congratulates Werner Ruiz, right, on achieving his U.S.. citizenship.

By Lt. Rosie Thomas

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 U.S. His father was already a U.S. 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 Correctional Captain Joseph Spinney made small talk at the party. Ruiz expressed the desire to become a US Citizen but due to having a family and saving to provide for the family, made it impossible.

Capt. Spinney was moved by Ruiz’s love of America and was inspired to help.

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

Thus, Ruiz’s journey began with Capt. 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 U.S. citizen.

As Ruiz was sworn in, Capt. 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 US 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 Capt. Spinney.

The Correctional Captain 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 said he’s grateful for the 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.

Huge American flag on stage with large crowd pledge oath using one hand raised
A large crowd takes the Citizenship Naturalization Oath at the Los Angeles Convention Center.