With 14 hash marks on his uniform representing 42 years of service, Correctional Officer Sal Villagomez has seen many changes during his career. As CDCR marks National Correctional Officers Week, this longtime employee shares some insights and advice for the next generation of officers.
Since 1984, CDCR has observed National Correctional Officers Week in May. The Department takes this time to acknowledge correctional officers statewide for their persistence and sacrifice in their daily lives.
Villagomez began his journey with CDCR in March 1981 at California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) to attend the three-week academy. After graduation, he reported for duty at San Quentin State Prison (SQ). Throughout his long career, he said he has worked every officer position at the state’s longest-serving prison.
What motivated you to become a correctional officer?
Prior to becoming a correctional officer, I previously worked in law enforcement and held positions as a security officer. I always knew I wanted to stay in this line of work. While reading the newspaper one day, I came across an ad to become a correctional officer. The rest is history.
What lessons have you learned in your 42 years with CDCR?
The main lesson I have learned from the 42 years of doing this job, is to treat people with respect and that respect will usually be given back to you. Respect is key and it goes a long way inside and outside the walls.
What changes have you seen in the corrections industry?
Currently, my assignment is with Tower 3. I watch the inner and outer perimeter of the walls to ensure no one escapes. I survey the shoreline to make sure no one is trying to breach the wall. Every now and then, I waive to a ferry that passes by hourly.
I have witnessed so many changes over the years, from San Quentin being a level 4 and housing death row to now the transition of a rehabilitation prison. You have to learn to adapt and overcome the missions as they change.
Planning for retirement
In retirement, Villagomez plans to work on his classic vehicles. He has a 1963 Ford Galaxie, 1968 MGC Roadster, 1953 Ford Pickup, and a 1991 Cadillac. He would like to travel and revisit places where he was stationed in the military, especially Vietnam.
“After 42 years, it is hard to pick my fondest memory, but I have many memories that will last me a lifetime once I leave SQ. All supervisors have been great and very good to me. I respect them all. I love and enjoy the camaraderie here at San Quentin,” said Villagomez.