By Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

A group of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) cadets was visibly moved as they witnessed a ceremony to honor the lives of correctional officers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in performance of their duties.

Since 1985, the Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center in Galt has had a memorial honoring CDCR officers who died in the line of duty. Thanks to the California Crime Victims Coalition (CCVC) and CTC staff, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association memorial will continue to be updated, including the recent dedication of three names on the monument.

“It means a lot to me, serving, wearing this badge, knowing what it takes to do this job day in and day out,” said CTC Capt. Jason Lowe as he welcomed the families of the fallen. “Knowing the challenges and the ultimate danger that we’re in every day, it’s an honor and it’s humbling to me to know so many of our friends and families walk that line with us every day.”

The service paid tribute to Sgt. Gilbert Cortez, who was killed in an automobile accident along with his K-9 partner Mattie, on March 25, 2013; Correctional Officer Judith Ann Henkel, who suffered a heart attack shortly after breaking up a fight at North Kern State Prison in Delano and passed away Feb. 3, 1995; and Lt. Frank Rankin Jr., who drowned in the Klamath River Jan. 30, 1960, when the boat he and an inmate from the Yreka Work Camp were working in capsized.

The CTC Honor Guard presented the colors at the memorial, as Bruce Locken played the bagpipes. The granite was handpicked by CTC staff, and Folsom State Prison donated granite for the memorial.

The CCVS comprises CDCR staff and other law enforcement agencies throughout the state, with the mission of supporting law enforcement in times of crisis. Its members raised money for the memorial rededication, including flag cases that were presented to each family. Each flag had been flown over the CTC and the memorial before being lowered to half-staff, and a challenge coin was included with each box to show where the memorial was held. Each case included 21 mini-14 rounds, representing a 21-gun salute to the officers.

“All who knew Gilbert can agree he was a very gentle, caring and dedicated man,” said his niece, Jacqueline Luna. “He was dedicated to his family and to his job. We all knew he was proud to work for CDCR. He was proud to work in the K-9 unit, and in the end he gave his life for it.”

Wayne Stevens shared the story of the day his mother died 20 years ago, which was also his first day on the job at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. He said he came home from work eager to call his mom, Officer Judith Ann Henkel, but instead received the call that his mother was in the hospital. Speaking to the cadets, he said that, as he did when his mother was on life support, they will be called upon to make tough decisions throughout their careers and lives. People will turn to them, he said, because the uniform is more than a badge – it is a symbol of responsibility and maturity.

But, he said, they will not be alone.

“This is a blue line,” he said. “This is our line. The department, the Highway Patrol, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department or any other agency – we are a family. No matter whether you are a deputy, an officer, a captain or the warden, it does not matter. We are a family.”

Frank Rankin spoke at the ceremony about his dad, Frank Rankin Jr., who died on the job in 1960. He said that while his father died 55 years ago, he was still glad to see him being honored on the memorial, and thanked the organizers for making it happen. He also followed his father in the field of law enforcement, serving 10 years as an officer at California Medical Facility before becoming a lawyer. He also had words of advice for the cadets.

“Once you have been in the uniform long enough, you will identify with every other peace officer in the state,” he said. “You’re going to notice things you’ve never noticed before. You’re going to be cognizant of things most other people are not, and it just comes with the territory.”

Chaplain David Skaggs closed the ceremony by thanking the families, friends and officers for coming in person, and for sharing their loved ones with CDCR in helping keep California safe.

“To you who are the special ones here today, the families of our fallen officers: We express our appreciation for the gift that you have given us,” he said. “We express our appreciation for you allowing us to grieve with you, and we express our concern and our love to you.”

“We are motivated to make this our task,” he added, “because you first gave to us your very best, for which we are indeed very grateful.”