Secretary's Corner

Now is the time to not be silent

By Secretary Ralph Diaz

Since mid-March CDCR and the nation have been nothing like “normal program,” and I ask myself: Will we ever return to normal? Rather than attempt to find ways to make the normal we are all familiar with fit into the new realities, I have to be honest: I am looking forward to not going back to normal program. This pandemic followed by the national attention on law enforcement reform have thrust us into the perfect moment to recraft this great agency once again. This is not the time for yearning for the good old days — and need I remind you, those days were only 90 days ago. If we do not put thought into action and start this recrafting of CDCR for the better, others will.

What we have learned about COVID-19 is it spreads swiftly and without much notice until someone starts showing signs or symptoms. As a system we are making changes and creating strategies on how to battle the spread. I cannot help but find parallels with COVID and its spread and impacts to the rightful scrutiny the law enforcement community is receiving from the public we are hired to serve. We in CDCR are not immune from this scrutiny nor should we be.

A virus grows in silence, but its effects are as destructive as racism, injustice, marginalization and indifference. In my nearly 30 years in this great organization of CDCR I have sadly seen them all. As the Secretary of this great Agency, I have the responsibility to stand and use my voice and position to say now is the time to not be silent. I have a limited time in this position and if I waste it playing it safe by remaining silent I allow the virus of hate to exist and spread. Now is the time to speak truth from the place that makes us who we truly are: from the heart.

I know when a vaccine is created we will all be relieved, looking to return to normal program at work and home. I am not looking forward to returning to normal program if that means we are not ready to acknowledge that we need to change how we treat everyone in our system and how we treat each other. We have the greatest opportunity to be the example of change.

This pandemic has brought to light the true capability of our Agency to come together not only across multiple professional disciplines, but across designations of staff, incarcerated person, family member, activist, and legislator – to work together to protect the people in our care and hold one another accountable. We have tragically lost two staff members and 15 incarcerated people to this disease, and I pray those numbers do not increase. As my heart breaks for those we have lost, I am also inspired by the bravery, dedication, and innovative spirit I see every day as the exceptional employees of this Department give their all under unprecedented challenges, and under intense scrutiny, to battle this disease.

We will come through this pandemic as a better agency. I am just as confident that with the right courage and reflection, we will come through our unrest as a better nation. The tragic death of George Floyd has sparked outrage and cries for reform, but it is so important to remember that George Floyd’s death is not the first injustice marginalized people have experienced in this world.

Please do not let my words be the only ones you read on this subject. I challenge every person who reads this to go outside their comfort zone, do your own research and engage in conversations with people you may not normally interact with. Speak to someone who looks different from you, or who grew up in different circumstances. I challenge you to treat all around you with respect and understanding, regardless of their status, skin color, or background.

By the time someone is sentenced to state prison, in the vast majority of time, they have been failed by system after system along the way. Do not let CDCR be another destination of failure. Compassion and communication do not mean sacrificing security – in fact, by acting with professionalism and respect with our colleagues and those we serve, we build trust, and that trust results in safer prisons and communities.

Martin Luther King Jr. said: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” The only vaccine for racism, injustice, marginalization and indifference is love. In the darkest of places in our system the only light that shines through is love. I love this calling and deliver this message to all of you in love.

With gratitude and respect,

Secretary, CDCR