‘Good exists in everyone’
Editor’s note: Secretary Ralph Diaz retired in October 2020.
“Ideals are like the stars: we never reach them, but like the mariners of the sea, we chart our course by them.” The quote by Carl Schurz was impressed upon me by one of my uncles when I started taking on CDCR leadership positions.
It’s a quote that has had a profound effect on me. I strongly believe ideals bring purpose and meaning, not just to life, but to our chosen profession. I consider myself to be an idealistic person, and have conducted myself in a way where I charted my career by strong ideals. One of those has been my unwavering belief that good exists in everyone. Without that belief, I would not have been invited to speak on behalf of our department.
Secretary Diaz: ‘We strive to do our best’
I chose the subject of ideals and purpose to be my departing Secretary’s Corner in hopes of leaving all of you, my CDCR family, with some insight into what it takes to make a difference.
For me, CDCR has been the adventure of a lifetime, filled with many memorable moments and interesting people. From the academy in Galt to serving as your Secretary, when we choose to work for this department, we strive to do our best. It takes commitment and love to do what we do.
I have also learned that the most important thing we can do is not stay silent, especially if you have ideas on how we can improve the way we conduct our business. Never give up on an idea you have, even if it seems impossible, or like the time is not right. Never be afraid of seizing the moment to bring that idea to life. It is voices like yours that have transformed this department, and will continue to do so.
‘Today’s inmate is tomorrow’s neighbor’
I also strongly believe that we are all capable of positive change. I want to tell you about a visit I made to the Ohio Lucasville Correctional Facility back in 2013.
That facility was the site of one the nation’s worst prison takeovers two decades earlier. During my visit, I saw several signs posted in the prison’s corridors that read “Today’s Inmate is Tomorrow’s Neighbor.”
To read that message in a prison where, in 1993, inmates took over and murdered Correctional Officer Robert Vanlandingham, as well as nine others, made a big impression. Despite this dark event, prison staff still had the capacity and foresight to move forward, charting a different path.
Carrying the message
When I returned to California after that visit, I began to weave the prison’s message into every presentation and correctional officer graduation. It was important for me to change the note that correctional officers only clear count or feed inmates. We are highly-trained correctional professionals with a mission and vision focusing on rehabilitation.
If a prison with the history of Lucasville can embrace their rehabilitative purpose, I was confident CDCR could do it better.
Upbringing shaped career for Secretary Diaz
I grew up in a law enforcement family. My father worked for the local police department and later the Sheriff’s department in our hometown. He would often get visitors in our home that were not family or friends. When these visitors would leave, I would ask, “Dad, who was that?” His answer would be direct and matter of fact: “I arrested that guy, and he needs some help.”
The idea that my father — a hardened, no-nonsense, Vietnam War veteran, who cut me no slack — could see past a person’s failures, left an indelible mark in my life and career. He offered a helping hand without expecting anything in return, and he believed in rehabilitation before the idea was widely embraced. From him, I learned to have an open mind and true empathy. People are good, and deserve a second chance.
Finding your purpose
The lack of purpose in our lives and careers can become the burden that can negatively impact our own wellness.
Mark Twain said, “The most important days of your life are the day you were born… and the day you find out why.”
To me, this is purpose. As I close this chapter in my career, I want to thank you for the love, commitment, duty, and honor you bring to our department.
Every person working for CDCR plays a role in our purpose. What each and every one of you does makes a difference, and it truly matters. When people overcome addiction, improve themselves, repay their debts to society, and go on to be good neighbors, it matters. Not everyone makes it, but enough do to make our purpose one that we should all be proud of.
Secretary Diaz: ‘Stay true to your purpose’
Do not ever forget the joy and excitement you had when you were selected to be a CDCR employee. Allow this moment of joy to carry you through trying times and toward your next goal. Above all, stay true to your purpose.
My ideals made it possible. I was a young man from a small town, with little confidence and even less education. But, I learned the skills to navigate the rough waters of the most complex prison system in the nation. Being your Secretary has been the honor of my life. It was not easy, and many sacrifices were made. Even so, after nearly 30 years, I can say it was worth every moment. This was done by having faith, strong ideals, integrity and courage.
I look forward to witnessing the next chapters of CDCR and hearing about all of your successes and achievements. In closing, I want to thank all of you for your support, dedication and loyalty. I will miss working with all of you and I count it a blessing to have known you.
God Bless You,
Read more stories about jobs at CDCR.