Secretary's Corner

Former Secretary Diaz reflects on three decades of public service

“Ideals are like the stars: we never reach them, but like the mariners of the sea, we chart our course by them.” This is a quote from Carl Schurz that one of my uncles conveyed upon me when I started taking on leadership positions in CDCR.

It’s a quote that has had a profound effect on me. That’s because I strongly believe ideals bring purpose and meaning, not just to life, but to this chosen profession of ours. 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 ideals has been my unwavering belief that good exists in everyone, and I am confident that without that belief, I would not have been invited to sit in rooms with people of influence and responsibility to represent and speak on behalf of our department.

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 going through the academy in Galt to serving as your Secretary in Sacramento, I have learned that when we choose to work for this department, we all strive to do our best day in and day out. 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.

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 it over and murdered Correctional Officer Robert Vanlandingham, as well as nine other inmates, made a big impression. Those words told me that, despite this dark event, the prison had the capacity and foresight to move forward and chart a different path.

When I came back to California after that visit, I began to weave that message into every presentation and correctional officer commencement speech I gave. You see, it was important for me to change the wrong impression or idea that correctional officers are here only to clear count or feed inmates. We are highly-trained correctional professionals with a mission and vision that is focused on rehabilitation. If a prison with the history of Lucasville can embrace their purpose to prepare people for reintegration back into society, I was confident that CDCR could do it better.

I’m proud to say that I learned this as a young man, instilled by values I learned at an early age. 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, and he would often get visitors in our home that were not family or friends. When these visitors would leave, I would ask him, “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.

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, and as I close this chapter in my career, I want to thank you all for the love, commitment, duty, and honor that you bring to our department every single day. Every person working for CDCR plays a role in our purpose, and all I can say is that what each and every one of you does makes a difference, and it truly matters. It matters when we see people overcome addictions, improve themselves, repay their debt to society, and go on to be good neighbors and lead productive lives. Not everyone does, but enough do to make our purpose one that we should all be proud of.

Do not ever forget the joy and excitement you had when you received the news you were selected to be a CDCR employee. Allow this moment of joy to carry you through your trying times and toward your next goal and achievement. Above all, stay true to your purpose.

My ideals made it possible for a young man from a small town, with little confidence and even less education, to learn 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, but after nearly 30 years, I can truly 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,

Ralph