Beyond the Badge

Berry is SQ’s first African American woman PIO

Woman speaking at a lectern.
San Quentin Public Information Officer Lt. Guim'Mara Berry at training in October 2022.

Lieutenant has worked at CDCR for 20 years

San Quentin Public Information Officer (PIO) Guim'Mara Berry smiling and wearing glasses.
Lt. Guim’Mara Berry, SQ PIO

In honor of Black History Month, Inside CDCR spoke with Guim’Mara (pronounced Gee-ah-mar-a) Berry, the first African American woman to hold the position of Public Information Officer (PIO) at San Quentin State Prison (SQ).

With 20 years of service to CDCR, Lt. Berry continues fulfilling the mission of public safety and rehabilitation.

Berry recalls interviewing for her first position with the Department when she was six months pregnant. At the time, she was ready to leave her job at the UC San Francisco Medical Center Intensive Care Nursery and embark on a new career.

She has held many positions at San Quentin, including Office Assistant in Parole and Intake transfers, and as an Office Service Supervisor. In 2007, she decided to apply to become a Correctional Officer.

Though the process was challenging, her determination led to success, even earning her the True Grit Award while in the Academy.

She eventually promoted to Correctional Sergeant at Folsom State Prison. After nine years, she took the next step and applied to become SQ’s next PIO. The rest, as they say, is history. She took on her new role Oct. 4, 2022.

Q&A with Lt. Berry, San Quentin PIO

What drew you to the role of PIO for San Quentin?

I joined the number one recruitment team in California, The San Quentin Recruitment Team, in 2020. Being able to represent CDCR in the community and sharing my awesome journey with the public is so rewarding.

There are probably several single mothers out there contemplating whether they want to take a leap of faith into a career of law enforcement. Also, I know there are individuals who carry the burden of their significant others telling them it is a dangerous career choice.

I would like to share my experiences with anyone who has aspirations of possibly joining the Department. I enjoy providing information about an organization that has afforded me the opportunities to live comfortably. We are diverse as a Department and I work with so many different people from different backgrounds. 

I am extremely honored to have been chosen for this position and have a platform to shed some positive light on how we promote rehabilitation. Communication is the key to change. I enjoy looking into matters for the public and the incarcerated population.

Who have you looked up to in your professional aspirations?

My aunt Brenda inspired me to work for the State of California. She has worked for CSP-Solano, Mule Creek State Prison, SQ and the Department of Justice. One thing I learned from my aunt is to apply to every position you have interest in, as long as you meet the minimum qualifications.

My grandmother and mother were instrumental in the person I have become today. My mother was a single mother who worked and provided. I always reflect on the fact that I never went without. She would make sure that I had two of everything, one in each color. One would maybe call that being spoiled, but she taught me how to be a great provider to my children.

My grandmother taught me to be humble and to always treat people how you want to be treated. She was a great listener and would never pass judgment on other people. She would always recognize the good in everyone. Every day I strive to be that way.

What advice would you give those seeking to challenge themselves professionally and/or seek leadership roles?

I would encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and listen to the individuals around them. Former SQ PIO Sam Robinson certainly saw something in me.

I am confident in working inside a housing unit, even overseeing the functionality of a unit.

This position is a challenge and my goal is to rise to the occasion. I would also encourage everyone new to the department to get involved with the different teams we have, like the Honor Guard, Crisis Response Team (CRT), Peer Support, Correctional Sergeant Mentorship Program and the Recruitment Team at your institution.

Fun Facts about Lt. Berry:

  • She is passionate about cars, working on them with her husband. Also, she likes to read all about the latest models and features – especially electric vehicles.
  • She is the proud grandma of a wonderful eight-month old.
  • She is vegan.
  • “Love Jones” is her favorite movie while Dave Hollister is her favorite musician.

By Alia Cruz, Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

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