As a Correctional Officer for nearly 30 years, Craig Lee has seen his share of changes at CDCR. The latest change for Lee is one many employees strive to reach: retirement.
Lee became well known in the department after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Rather than running away from the gunfire, he ran toward it, pulling people to safety. (Read the original 2017 story.) In 2018, he was awarded a Medal of Valor for his life-saving actions.
Inside CDCR caught up with Lee to discuss his long career and what comes next.
When did you start with the department and where have you worked?
In the 1990s, I was in the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) academy in Fresno. I completed Level I and II, but dropped out of Level III to report February 19, 1994, to the academy at Richard A McGee Correctional Training Center.
After graduating, I reported to California Correctional Institution (CCI) in Tehachapi. I worked Level 4A as well as Level 1, 2, and 3 yards. At the end of 1996, I transferred to Valley State Prison for Women which is now Valley State Prison (VSP).
Can you describe what it was like on your first day on the job? What was going through your mind? How did it work out when compared to pre-start anxieties or worries?
Hmmm, first day hitting the yard. It was “the unknown,” feeling lost and asking myself, “What the heck did I get myself into?” I looked and acted like a fish and a funny new guy. There were great officers and supervisors at Tehachapi to help with the learning and tactics to become more confident.
Have you had any mentors along the way? If so, what advice did you find useful?
Everyone I have met was a mentor. I like to thank each and everyone of them.
What are some memorable moments from your years with the department?
Transferring to VSP for Women was one of the worst memorable things I did in my career. Going from a men’s prison to a women’s prison was very different.
Since you started, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in corrections?
Training, training, training, and more training.
What advice would you offer to someone considering a CO career?
It’s excellent pay with good benefits and a high chance of promotion.
How was the retirement process? Anything people should take into account when getting near retirement?
Most of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) staff are very helpful. If you’ve been divorced, make sure PERS has your divorce papers filed.
What are your plans after retirement?
I run an online business. And a good friend and retiree is setting me up to do some acting in the film industry.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
As Correctional Officer, the job is all about respect. Have a peace of mind. Have a life outside work. Don’t make work the only thing you do. Thank you to the people who touched my heart. You all be safe and take care of every brother and sister on the line.
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