Child’s death still troubles Centinela Correctional Lieutenant

(Editor’s note: Correctional Lt. Michael Ramirez of Centinela State Prison read Secretary Kernan’s account of how an inmate’s death affected him and wrote this response:)

I have over 23 years in the Department and I can definitely relate here. It’s not just about being macho, although that does play a role.

I’ve learned that sometimes you don’t even realize that you’ve been emotionally affected by the things you’ve seen and experienced until those emotions are involuntarily regurgitated months or even years later.

I’ve seen a lot of violence over the years but nothing has affected me more than the time I responded to a medical emergency in one of our visiting rooms.

I heard the call over the radio and thought in my mind that it was probably an elderly visitor having a problem or maybe someone slipped and fell which are the routine calls. I arrived on scene to see a young boy on the ground, blue and unresponsive, hysterical mother, and my officers performing CPR on the child.

I can honestly say that out of all the violence and chaos I’ve seen in my career, that’s the sight that I will never forget.

We did everything we could and it was the fastest time I’ve ever seen anyone leave the prison to outside medical but it just wasn’t enough. We found out later that the boy was flown to another hospital and had died.

We all felt bad. I later thought about what we had done and what we could have done better and then I let it go and didn’t think about it anymore, or so I thought.

About a year and a half later, I’m teaching CPR and I decide to discuss the incident with the class when all of a sudden I feel the tears well up in my eyes and I’m getting choked up as I recount the events that took place that day.

It came out of nowhere and I was shocked by my reaction to it. It was an embarrassment for me to be overcome with emotions in front of a class full of custody staff. But if I could understand one thing from this whole experience; it’s that I am not coated in emotional Teflon and that’s okay.

I’m human and I can accept that.

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27 Responses

  1. Kenneth Emerick Tuesday, April 4, 2017 / 10:00 am

    When your heart, soul, and actions are all in the right place, that is eternal and believe our Lord smiles on that. Thanks so much for your eternal service.

  2. sonia sanchez Friday, January 27, 2017 / 3:02 pm

    You did the best you could have done and our heavenly father knows that and that is what counts. Thank you for your commitment.

  3. dr b Friday, January 27, 2017 / 7:51 am

    My perspective is that your behavior better prepared the students for any situation they may encounter. You brought your real life experience to the class.

  4. K. Emmert Thursday, January 26, 2017 / 12:46 pm

    Well said brother.

  5. Melissa Wednesday, January 25, 2017 / 10:41 am

    To be real and to be proud of it = Liberating

  6. Lt. K. Bell Wednesday, January 25, 2017 / 8:46 am

    Those of us in the Department will eventually experience loss of life, curtain things we witness during our endeavor are horrifying however, WE put up our emotional shield, move on and simply try to forget. Some things will come back during a relevant time in our lives unloading on us with that memory we thought we forgot (PTSD). This is okay, we are not made of steel we are flesh and bone like everybody else. The profession we chose is not easy it can be physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting at times, not just anybody can do it. Lieu, don’t ever be embarrassed by your emotions, you are human, brother! You shared something to your class that had an impact, and i would be willing to bet you had the attention of the whole class (not one tired eye), thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Sabrina Wednesday, January 25, 2017 / 12:12 am

    Thank you for sharing such a difficult story with us. Id hope that everyone in that class could feel your pain and understand the impact it had on your life. Still today, I remember the first child I lost as an RN. I dropped to the floor literally before I fainted as well as the physician running the code. It’s never easy losing a child even for medical staff. This is why it is so important for the CPR training. Maybe, to put a positive spin on this occurrence, you can dedicate all your classes to this beautiful child. Who knows, maybe your students will take the class seriously and realize that they may be the one to use the CPR and could even be someone they love. God bless you for your bravery and sharing such a tough experience. With love, S. Clark, RN

  8. J. Martinez Tuesday, January 24, 2017 / 9:04 pm

    As a frequent visitor, I just want to add my thanks to all of you for what you do. Too often, visitors and COs view each other as worlds apart, but I for one am grateful for those who are willing to do such a tough job, and I always try to smile and be courteous. Thank you for your heroism and not being afraid to talk about those emotions.

  9. G. Ramey Tuesday, January 24, 2017 / 3:45 pm

    Your STRONGER for sharing your experience than keeping it to yourself. More of us should follow your lead. Thank you Lieutenant.

  10. Arianna Temple Tuesday, January 24, 2017 / 10:01 am

    Thank you so much for sharing. It takes more bravery to accept your emotions than to sweep them under the rug. Too often, we bottle up our human emotions, and we don’t process them. I am trying to get better. Sometimes I just get home and cry my eyes out about the things I saw at work that day. As a first responder, you experienced my worst nightmare. May you and everybody involved find healing from this dreadful experience.

  11. DANA Kelly Monday, January 23, 2017 / 6:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing! I’ve been frustrated with myself at times too when tears fill my eyes at a memory. I call it the art of being truly human. It shows that you are being real. The prison environment can harden those of us who work here. The death of a child is sad regardless of the background. Again, thank you for sharing.

  12. Manuel Sundaram Monday, January 23, 2017 / 5:49 pm

    Hats off to you, dear Lieutenant, for your humanly and valuable sharing.
    I count you as a blessing to CDCR.
    God bless you and God bless America!

  13. D. Pollard Monday, January 23, 2017 / 4:48 pm

    There are times when our humanity outweighs our tough exterior, Lt.
    You and your staff did a great job! Your tears were not a sign of weakness but human nature. There’s no shame there. Take care, Lt.
    Side note: I miss my CEN people, too.

  14. Diana Viale Monday, January 23, 2017 / 4:15 pm

    Great story, you are definately right, there isn’t anything you could have done and it’s not your fault. There also isn’t anything wrong with your emotions coming out during that time. It lets us all know that in this job that we all do everyday, we can all be human.

    Thank you for your story.

  15. J. Carrillo Monday, January 23, 2017 / 1:52 pm

    Lt. Ramirez, thank you for having the courage to be vulnerable enough to share that touching and emotionally-charged story. It is a brave example to set – a willingness to embrace one’s humanity instead of pretending one is invincible. If we walk around pretending we’re perfect and things don’t have an emotional impact, the only thing we are going to impress is our own ego. I am a non-custody staff member and I have so much respect for custody staff. These staff have witnessed horrific acts of violence and acted in numerous high-stress situations in prison and as we’ve seen featured in many Inside CDCR articles, have also repeatedly took action on the streets to assist the public after accidents and in stopping crimes-in-progress. When others stand by immobilized by shock, custody staff rush in and start applying their training and experience in an attempt to handle the situation to the best of their efforts. I have no doubt that all present that day were deeply affected by the situation with that poor child and I wish it had not happened; however, the actions of Lt. Ramirez and other staff to try to save that little boy gave him a fighting chance at survival. If the heartaches we go through in the trials of life help us to evolve as people and also to gain experience we can share to help us be examples to others, then we can reap something positive even from tragedy.

  16. Jennifer Ogborn Monday, January 23, 2017 / 1:39 pm

    We are human. Emotions are natural for humans.

  17. Lisa M Monday, January 23, 2017 / 1:23 pm

    Lieutenant,
    Thank you for sharing that. It is a message we all needed to hear. Especially about emotions being “involuntarily regurgitated.” Your message is a reminder and hopefully helpful to many.

  18. Victoria Jones Monday, January 23, 2017 / 10:14 am

    That is a beautiful expression of how our innermost beings are touched each and every day that we work in this environment. It can be very sad, but then again, it can be so rewarding. And emotion is nothing at all to be ashamed – in fact it is a healthy release.

    I applaud all who hang in and do what we can within the confines of the prison.

    Stay safe.

  19. CSP-SAC Monday, January 23, 2017 / 10:10 am

    I look up to all in uniform for the bravery and care you all have for our safety. Your feelings were real human feelings that day and anyone with a caring heart would have also been affected in the way you were. I see the pressure and what’s expected from any officer so I say to you keep being you and don’t let anyone ever take that from you. I look up to you and give you all the most respect and credit. Thank you for your touching story and service.

    Wife of a PO.

  20. BEN SANACORE Monday, January 23, 2017 / 9:59 am

    Thank you for all the work you have done for the Dept., Lt. Ramirez. You and your fellow officers gave the best chance for the boy to live that you could.

    Becoming emotional and shedding tears doesn’t mean that you are not tough. It means that you care, and I’m always proud and happy to know and appreciate someone who cares.

    What matters now is that you and your officers performed as well as you could. You were tough when it counted, and that is the best you can do as person. The rest is up to higher powers than us.

  21. Susan Stuart Monday, January 23, 2017 / 9:54 am

    Thank you and your staff for doing what you could. That is a terrible thing to experience. I am wondering what happened that made that child unresponsive. Had he been choking? Did he have a pre-existing health problem? Was there foul play? Is there anything to learn from the situation that could help prevent something like that in the future? Thank you again for what you do. I will remember to pay attention during CPR training!

  22. 2ndWatchC/O Monday, January 23, 2017 / 9:53 am

    This is a great testament to who you are as a person, it certainly does not show weakness, it shows maturity and strength as an individual. We all have situations where our emotions take over and we react as the caring professional that we are trained to be. You show great wisdom and accountability. Your family and your staff are lucky to have you around. Thank you!

  23. Karen Monday, January 23, 2017 / 9:52 am

    So beautifully written and I agree with Lt. Thomas. Never be embarrassed over emotions. I do self help groups in the prison and inmates apologize all the time for letting their emotions show and their tears fall. I wish more men could do that. God bless.

    • Concern person Monday, January 23, 2017 / 10:17 am

      American society need to encourage and support men and young males in showing their emotions.

  24. Mark J Monday, January 23, 2017 / 9:41 am

    That was one of the most “Macho” things I have read. Stay strong and thank you for sharing..

  25. Jessica Saravia Monday, January 23, 2017 / 9:39 am

    Thank you so much for being so transparent….and thank you for all you did to assist that child and the family that day. Just because the outcome was different than you’d hoped doesn’t make you any less a hero.

  26. Lieutenant T.Thomas CIM Monday, January 23, 2017 / 9:39 am

    Stay strong brother. You and your staff are heroes for what you do daily and for what you did during that incident. Society has no clue on what we have to endure in this hell that we work in, but peolpe like you and your staff prove that we are heroes and should be appreciated for what we do. Don’t ever be emberassed for showing emotions. We are human, don’t ever think that makes you look weak. Stay safe! Miss you guys out there at Centinela

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