For two decades, Fire Captain Terry Mallery helped CDCR fulfill its mission of public safety through rehabilitation. His career was spent in Susanville at High Desert State Prison and California Correctional Center (CCC).
“I have been in the Susanville area for 58 years,” he said. “This is home.”
Before prison work, he was employed at his father’s furniture-moving company for 20 years. After marriage and the birth of his first child, he decided it was time for a change.
From family business to correctional officer
High Desert prison was hiring, so he applied and started at the Basic Correctional Officer Academy in Galt.
After graduating in March 2002, he reported for duty as a correctional officer at High Desert State Prison (HDSP).
“My first day at HDSP was memorable,” he recalls.
Training has improved greatly over the last 20 years. Today new officers are mentored, taught de-escalation and communication techniques, and learn other tools. But, in 2002, Mallery said he was handed some responsibility and told to “figure it out.” After 10 minutes, he was assigned to the floor to better ease him into the position. During his first week, there was also a riot, resulting in fatalities.
“Thank goodness for good partners,” Mallery said. “I was starting to wonder what I had gotten myself into.”
Career direction changes thanks to transportation job
His first two years found him working various posts at HDSP. After transferring to CCC, a new assignment changed his career path.
“I was assigned to the camp office as a camp bus driver. We would transport (the incarcerated population) to and from every northern camp once a week. That was a good job,” he recalls.
That led Mallery to a career as a CCC fire captain where up to 17 incarcerated people were housed at the fire station. Each of them were interviewed and handpicked by the fire captains.
Aside from providing fire protection at the two state institutions in Susanville, Mallery also served as an EMT and first-responder for rural fire departments.
“Our mutual aid coverage area was quite large, covering all of Lassen County. Many calls would take over an hour (with lights and sirens) just to get to,” Mallery recalls.
Mutual aid calls included fires, medicals, vehicle extrications, public assists, airplane crashes and farm accidents. At CCC and HDSP, they responded to fires, medicals, vehicle extrications, public assists, and flooding.
Public misperceptions of prison staff
He said there are common misconceptions held by the public, especially regarding prison employees.
“Both HDSP and CCC have some great staff, many of whom will be lifelong friends. Working as a fire captain at a prison Fire Department, I had to rely on incarcerated firefighters to accomplish tasks. Many tasks involved crucial life-saving skills in emergency situations. This took me several years to accept. Once I realized that not all are (the same), this became much easier to manage,” he said.
Retired Fire Captain Mallery looks back at career
In September 2021, he retired after 20 years of state service.
Mallery’s proudest career moment happened on a Saturday afternoon during shift change.
“I received a 911 call for a vehicle accident on the county road in front of the prison. I responded in a fire engine with an (incarcerated) crew. At the scene, there was (an injured) staff member. The passenger of the second vehicle was deceased while the driver of the second vehicle was (still alive). I began life-saving actions and extrication on the driver. In the meantime, the staff member was transported and cared for by a local ambulance. I performed first aid and oxygen therapy for about 20 minutes waiting for the helicopter to arrive. Then I transferred the patient to the helicopter medic,” Mallery recalls.
It was apparent that the woman in the car had been visiting someone at the prison that day.
“(During my next shift), I located the (incarcerated person the driver) was visiting. It was her husband and he informed me she was alive. He thanked me and said she should be out of the hospital by the week’s end. What made this call so amazing was that a few years earlier, I helped save the (incarcerated) husband’s life (when he was working) on a CALFIRE hand crew. Having been struck in the head by a falling tree, I assisted with life-saving actions and transported him by CCC ambulance to the hospital.”
Some challenges, according to Mallery, are how policy and actions are enacted using a one-size-fits-all mentality.
What works in larger metropolitan areas where there are many resources, might not work in rural locations, he said.
Mallery says ‘Don’t quit’
If you’re considering a career in corrections, he advises learning, honing your skills and carving out your spot.
“Don’t quit. Find a niche and get good at it,” he said. “In 20 years working for the State of California, I never went without a paycheck, always had a job (and) my family never went without clothing or food.”
What’s life like after retiring?
“Since retirement from the state, I have been working full time at (our family owned) rental business. I have also been very busy working on my ranch raising cattle, (as well as our) custom haying business. There is always something to do,” Mallery said.
Story by Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor