Beyond the Badge, Jobs, Training and Facilities

Officer Cheryl Lonero: Prison work can be ‘life changing’

Correctional officer Lonero at Salinas Valley State Prison sign.
Officer Cheryl Lonero has spent her career at Salinas Valley State Prison.

Women’s History Month spotlights Transportation Officer

For as long as she can remember, Correctional Officer Cheryl Lonero wanted to work in law enforcement. Graduating the academy in 1997 was the first step in her long correctional career.

“I have been with the CDCR 25 years, all of that at Salinas Valley State Prison,” Lonero said. “With an academy date of February 1997, Kilo Company, only three others arrived with me from the academy.”

The prison was still new, opening just a year earlier.

“When I arrived, it was rocking and rolling, just as they told us at the academy,” she said. “Every day was a challenge with having all new staff from all over the state.”

The mid-90s were also a time of turmoil, forging strong bonds among the staff.

“I love my job and I love working at SVSP. This place is like family,” she said.

Lonero said there have been many challenges since activating SVSP, ranging from leadership changes to staffing issues, and starting new programs with few resources.

“Adapt and overcome should be our motto,” she joked.

The public’s perception of prison work, shaped by television and movies, doesn’t paint an accurate picture.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about working in a prison,” she explained. “People on the outside are not seeing it for what it is. Prison work isn’t just safety and security of all inmates and the public, but maintaining a safe and functioning institution for those who live and work inside.”

How would she describe the job to someone unfamiliar with correctional work?

“It’s a life-changing experience. I see correctional officers being a big part in the aspects of rehabilitation, in constant contact with the inmates and free staff. Verbal communication to me is the key,” she said.

Lonero offers advice for becoming a correctional officer

“I’d say to someone wanting to be a correctional officer, be yourself, understand that you are working in a level 4 prison, don’t take anything for granted and always watch your partner’s back. This job is not for everyone but it will be the best job you will ever work,” Lonero said.

While being a correctional officer has been a valuable experience, home life is just as important.

“Working here for 25 years has been a great opportunity for me and my family. But, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is learning to leave work at work,” she said. “Family comes first because life is short.”

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor

Women's History Month March 2022 text over images from CDCR past

See more stories highlighting CDCR/CCHCS staff.

Follow us on YouTubeFacebook and Twitter.