Community Involvement

CDCR staff, inmates brighten holidays for those in need, part 2

Compiled by Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Avenal, CIM, Calipatria, Chuckawalla, Corcoran, Pelican Bay, Pine Grove, Division of Adult Parole Operations and Division of Adult Institutions staff volunteered to make the holidays brighter for others. To submit your institution’s efforts, email them to no later than close of business Jan. 7, 2020. (Read part 1.)

People hold cards in front of a Christmas tree.
From left are Lt. Mike Tuntakit, Frank Dukar, CRM Dee Lovette, AW Christin Herrera, Jim Powroznik, and James Anderson.

Avenal State Prison

Four people hold children's coats to be donated to children in need.
Holding coat donation are, from left, Johnny Garza, Director of Support and Family Services; Karen Henry, Academic Instructor, ASP Golden Hills; Francisco Meza Martinez, Director of Curriculum and Accountability; and Lori Villanueva, Superintendent.

Avenal State Prison and volunteers from the Veterans of Foreign Wars visited the Veterans Affairs Hospital and Community Living Center on Dec. 21. 

It was a great success as the incarcerated veterans group at Avenal reached beyond the wall to help bring joy to fellow veterans and the community. Cards created by artistically inclined veteran inmates were signed and distributed to the veterans at the hospital.

The cards brought many smiles and even a few tears. Inmates signed the cards as well with the message, “thank you for your service.”

The prison education staff also worked to help keep kids warm for the winter. Along with the education staff of Golden Hills Adult School, they donated $300 as well as 35 coats to Coats for Kids of Huron/Coalinga for Operation Warm.

At the event, 72 new winter coats were given away.

Operation Warm is a national nonprofit that creates brand new, high-quality coats for children in need.

The organization’s volunteers believe a brand-new coat is more than a coat, promoting self-esteem, school attendance and outdoor play. Learn more about Operation Warm.

Women hold lyric sheets while singing Christmas carols in a prison.
Carolers toured the visitation areas at CIM.

California Institution for Men

By Delinia Lewis, CRM

California Institution for Men welcomed singers from the Simi Valley Church of Latter Day Saints. The eight-member group sang Christmas carols at various locations in the prison. The singers toured the visiting areas on Facility A, C and D, “spreading holiday cheer to inmates, visitors and staff.”

Kids open packs donated by prison staff.
Calipatria State Prison employees helped make the holidays better for kids at a local school.

Calipatria State Prison

By Lt. Ernesto Bustamante

Calipatria State Prison employees reached out to the local community to give back during the holiday season.

Staff scheduled five events in the days leading up to Christmas. They visited Grace Smith Elementary School, handing out backpacks stocked with a pair of gloves, a knit cap, a scarf, socks and a toy to all students in grades kindergarten through fourth.

Staff participated in the Adopt-a-Family program established by Women Haven, a nonprofit organization. The program is designed to assist mothers and their children transitioning from the women’s shelter into a new life and a place of their own. Prison Staff adopted 11 families which require a separate event to accommodate the sheer volume of gifts.

The second day, Warden W.L. Montgomery and staff visited Imperial Heights Healthcare & Wellness Center, a senior living nursing home. Staff distributed over 100 gift bags to the residents which included a blanket.

The Salvation Army showed up to the prison and hauled away a truck load of unwrapped gifts for children from throughout the county donated by staff.

Staff closed out the scheduled holiday events by participating in the Shop-with-a-Cop program. Calipatria staff joined other law enforcement departments and took 120 children on a $100 shopping spree at Target. The program operates under the umbrella of United Families Inc., an agency that provides child-care services for low-income families. The committee was able to raise about $15,000 this year. Calipatria prison staff donated $3,500 to the event. The roughly 1,200 employees at the prison reside in the area. The prison staff take pride in giving back to the community year round.

“This is a representation of our great staff her at Calipatria, I support the different events, Staff do an amazing job in reaching out the youth the families and the elder,” said Warden W.L. Montgomery.

Santa and correctional staff are surrounded by young children.
Five dozen pre-school children received gifts thanks to the efforts of CSP-Corcoran staff.


On Dec. 20, CSP-Corcoran staff provided 64 local pre-school students a gift. Each student received a jacket and a toy to open inside the classroom. CSP-Corcoran’s Santa himself on top of his red fire truck, delivering the gifts to the local students. Upon arrival, Santa was greeted by the preschoolers who were singing “Jingle Bells.” This is the second year the institution has adopted this pre-school. 

Pelican Bay prison staff wear Santa hats with a man in a Santa Claus suit. They are posing next to a large fire engine.
Pelican Bay State Prison staff got into the holiday spirit to deliver gifts to local school children.

Pelican Bay State Prison

By Lt. Del Higgerson

Pelican Bay State Prison recently participated in Operation Santa, delivering Christmas gifts to approximately 90 kindergarten and first-grade students at Redwood School.

Three correctional staff stand with children while they get presents wrapped.
Pelican Bay State Prison staff accompany children during Shop with a Hero.

The letters to Santa were collected and given to the Community Resource Office (CRO). Once the gifts were bought and wrapped by Pelican Bay staff, they were dropped off at the CRO. The toys were delivered to the school by Santa’s elves and given to the students by Santa Claus himself.

Pelican Bay conducts Operation Santa at a different school every year in the local area. This is the ninth year Operation Santa has brought joy to kids in the local area.

Staff also took part in Shop with a Hero, benefiting Crescent City children. It was a huge success with 121 kids taking part.

In addition to CDCR staff, the heroes included the local fire department, paramedics, military, Rotary Club, Coast Guard, CHP, police and sheriff’s office.

Each Hero was paired with a child and received a gift card to go shopping in Wal-Mart for the children’s family members. When they were done, they went to designated checkout lanes and then to tables where volunteers waited to wrap the gifts. The annual event gives children the opportunity to learn about giving and to go Christmas shopping with local first responders.

Group of people stand in front of a hospital mural with a large container of blankets.
Pine Grove Youth Conservation Center offenders Marco Carbajal, Christopher Flores and Victor Gregorico, traveled to UC Davis Children’s Hospital to donate comfort blankets to their patients. The three youth inmates were accompanied by two CDCR staff.

Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp

Pine Grove Conservation Camp youths Marco Carbajal, Christopher Flores and Victor Gregorico, accompanied by Parole Agent Sandra Magdeleno and Youth Correctional Counselor Claudette Perrin, delivered more than 40 comfort blanket kits they constructed to exact specifications for distribution to families and patients at UC Davis Children’s Hospital Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department. The gift was gratefully accepted by UCDCH staff who called the gift “absolutely fantastic,  and the patterns and fabric are perfect for our patients.”

People stand around a pile of gifts/
DAI staff raised over $5,000 in gifts for families in need.

Division of Adult Institutions HQ

In the spirit of the holiday season, the Division of Adult Institutions (DAI) Headquarters participated in a local non-profit’s holiday giving program. The missions and units under DAI adopted 12 local families who are currently receiving services from the Sacramento Children’s Home. The families submitted a wish list to the school for a various items, including things as simple as home goods, clothing, books and toys. This was an awesome opportunity for the DAI teams to work together for a cause benefiting the local community. In total, DAI was able to provide over $5,000 in gifts to the families. The mission of the Sacramento Children’s Home is to open doors to the future by maximizing the potential of children and families. DAI looks forward to continuing to join forces with local community organizations to make a positive impact.

Agents in uniform  with their family
DAPO agents from San Diego and Imperial County participated in a Shop with a Cop event for children.

DAPO Southern Region

SAN DIEGO AND IMPERIAL COUNTY DISTRICTS — Parole Agents from San Diego and Imperial County participated in the annual Shop with a Cop event, bringing joy to kids who otherwise might get gifts for Christmas. The annual event is hosted by local law enforcement agencies who in partnership with Target stores. The event pairs over 100 underprivileged children with an officer. The goal is to provide the children with a positive experience interacting with members of the law enforcement community.  While at the same time, the children experience a wonderful Christmas they might not have had otherwise. This special day leaves a lasting favorable impression with all the participants. 

Parole agents stand with the CHP mascot.
San Diego District Parole Agents joined other law enforcement agencies for a special event hosted by Sea World followed by a shopping spree at Target for children in need. They were able to get a photo with the CHP mascot, Chipper.

“The interaction helps build trust between the children and law enforcement,” said Southern Region DAPO Chief Deputy Jon Stern, who participated in the Shop with a Cop event. “This is the best day of the year for me.”

After being served breakfast at Southwest High school, the children had their picture taken with Santa and then got the opportunity to ride in a law enforcement vehicle in a caravan to Target. At Target, each child is given a $100 gift card. Each child is escorted around Target with their assigned officer who helps them select gifts for themselves and family members.

SAN DIEGO DISTRICT — On Dec. 7, agents from the San Diego District also took part in the Shop with a Cop event put on by Sea World and Target. The event paired over 300 underprivileged children with an officer from area law enforcement agencies.

After being served breakfast at Sea World, the children are treated to a private aquatic show involving dolphins.  After the dolphin show, the children rode in a law enforcement vehicle. At Target, each child was given a $150 gift card and escorted around the store with their assigned officer who helped them select gifts for themselves and family members. 

At the conclusion of the events, there were plenty of smiles, photos and well wishes to go around for everyone.

Girl hugs her incarcerated father while other families look on.
Visiting families at CVSP were treated to a special holiday with their incarcerated loved ones. Inmate Ryan Berry-Vierwinden, surrounded by family, received a hug from his daughter.

Chuckawalla Valley State Prison

By Lt. John Hernandez

On Dec. 22, Chuckawalla Valley State Prison’s (CVSP) Visiting Department started the day as usual processing visitors at 8 a.m. like every other weekend. However, on this day, as the children entered the institution with the adults to visit their dads, uncles and grandfathers, little did they know that they were in for a special surprise.

Inmate watches two children open gifts.
Jaime Lopez watches his family open presents in the visiting area.

Earlier this month Warden (A) David Holbrook, Warden and Chief Deputy Warden (A) Christopher Pierce met with Kattiuska Trevino, chairperson of the CVSP Inmate Family Counsel (IFC).

During the meeting, Warden Holbrook and CDW Pierce introduced the idea that during regular visiting hours, the incarcerated men would choose a wrapped gift for each child visiting them. Then as the families entered the visiting room, they would greet the children with Christmas presents.

Trevino thought this was a great idea and immediately shared the idea with the other IFC members, who then donated approximately 80 new toys still in their original packaging to the Visiting Department. Visiting staff supervised while members of the CVSP Men’s Advisory Council wrapped the gifts, labeled and sorted them by age appropriateness.

When Inmate Ryan Berry-Vierwinden entered the A/B visiting room to see his wife and three children, he entered bearing gifts for the little ones. As his two sons and daughter saw him, their eyes lit up when they noticed the gifts in his arms.

“This is the first time in 15 years that I’ve gotten to see my kids open Christmas gifts,” he said.  

Another visitor thanked staff for their efforts. “I’ve visited at several different prisons and I’ve never seen this before, what you guys are doing here is awesome, thank-you for doing this for the children.”

In C/D visiting, Inmate Ricardo Contreras’ family was waiting for him in the visiting room as he entered with three gifts, one for each of his nieces. “My nieces were totally surprised because this is the first time that their uncle was able to give them Christmas presents.”

Inmate Marvin Jackson said, “This is what rehabilitation is all about. The look on the kids’ faces as their fathers are handing them presents is not only emotional for the kids but all the adults in the visiting room too.”

Warden Holbrook and CDW Pierce thanked all the CVSP staff who helped make this event happen. They also thanked Trevino and the local IFC members for their generosity. This joint effort gave the children visiting their loved ones a special Christmas here CVSP.

Warden Holbrook said he hopes this is the beginning of an annual event. “I’ve been at five different prisons and this is the first time I have participated in anything like this,” he said. “Due to the positive feedback we have received from staff, inmates and visitors — especially the joyous reactions from the children — I believe we have begun a new tradition at CVSP.”