Beyond the Badge

Terry Thornton retires after two decades

During training, Terry Thornton smiles while holding papers.
Terry Thornton running Public Information Officer Training in October 2022. (Photo by Clarissa Resultan.)

Started state career at Office of Emergency Services

For over two decades, Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thornton has been the calming voice on the phone for reporters, editors and CDCR institution public information officers. Now, she’s looking forward to the next step: retirement.

She started as an information officer with the department in September 1998. Two years later, she promoted to information officer II. Since August 2010, she’s been the Deputy Press Secretary, fielding questions from media outlets around the world while also training and guiding information officers from around the state.

She started at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services in 1995 then worked as a reserve public affairs officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency until 1998, when she joined corrections.

“I also worked in radio for nearly 10 years, earned a bachelor’s degree in art, got married, and had three children,” she said.

Before she retires this month, Inside CDCR caught up with Thornton to discuss her career, life and future plans.

Mentors and accomplishments

She said there were many mentors throughout her career.

“I tried to learn from everyone I could. And I was fortunate to have had leadership training, attend the executive development orientation program, and I successfully completed the executive leadership institute,” she said.

Thornton was named Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Year in 2009 by the State Information Officers Council “for outstanding achievement in public information service to the State of California and to CDCR.”

“Arguably one of the busiest spokeswomen in the state, she is the lead PIO who handles and directs media responses to issues dealing with CDCR’s most high-profile unit, the Division of Adult Institutions,” states the 2009 press release.

Thornton has been involved a number of key corrections issues, including those involving high-profile incarcerated people, the housing and treatment of transgender incarcerated people, visiting, segregated housing, the death penalty, rehabilitative programs, and medical issues.

“Her ability to present complex issues in layman’s terms is regarded as a true talent and asset to her department,” the release reads.

The State Information Officers Council (SIOC) also recognized her work with a Gold Award for best feature article in 2002 and another Gold Award for best black-and-white photography. In 2010, she earned another Gold Award for best press release. She also was awarded two CDCR distinguished-service medals.

Another highlight of her career? “Chairing the planning committee that put on the 2018 Women Working in Corrections and Juvenile Justice national conference,” she said. “I still have women tell me how much the conference helped them in their careers and impacted their leadership abilities.”

Institution PIOs and others in CDCR owe their training to Thornton, who designed the program from scratch.

She said she’s proud of “designing it from the ground up (and) creating, editing and updating our PIO Training Manuals.”

Advice for others

For those looking to promote, she has some words of wisdom: “Work hard. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to do hard things. Learn everything you can. And hone your leadership skills.”

Working in corrections isn’t easy but she’s done her best to balance work and her home life.

“As women, we juggle a lot of roles: career, home, marriage, kids, family, etc. Sometimes you don’t ‘manage’ it, you just do it,” she said. “Having other interests outside of work is essential, though. I do photography, read books, play guitar, facilitate a women’s Bible study and ride on the back of my husband’s motorcycle. That keeps us young.”

For retirement plans, she’s looking to simply enjoy life and keep learning.

“I haven’t finished thinking this out. Obviously, spend more time with my family and five grandchildren. I’ve started online school in biblical studies and I plan to finish that. I’m considering pursuing a master’s degree,” she said. “I plan to keep doing photography and other things I enjoy doing like reading and writing. And I plan to learn new things, like quilting.”

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor

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