Making a living by helping to give back

Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series of articles that look at the various jobs within CDCR and the dedicated people who do them. CDCR employees work at some of the toughest jobs in state service.

By Dana Simas, Public Information Officer

Being a good neighbor is an important mission for any California prison, whether it’s smack-dab in the middle of a sprawling city or it’s a stone’s throw away from the California-Mexico border and miles from the nearest housing development.

Keeping the community ties alive and keeping inmates occupied with religious and leisure groups is not your grandfather’s 9-to-5 job. It takes long and unusual hours, a certain gumption that’s not afraid to ask for donations, and a passion for making people smile.

At Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, Frank Ruffino has been hitting the pavement the last three years as the institution’s Community Resource Manager (CRM).

“Every time I’m in the community I’m trying to recruit volunteers,” Ruffino said. “If someone expresses an interest in volunteering, I match them with the right program.”

CRM Frank Ruffino

CRM Frank Ruffino recognizes volunteers at R.J. Donovan State Prison during Volunteer Week at the institution.

Ruffino also keeps the word out for community donations to the institution. A few weeks ago, Ruffino mentioned the need for chairs for the institution’s religious programs to a church leader in the community. Soon 150 chairs, worth $3,000, were donated to the institution.

“If I had been too shy to ask or put the need out there, it wouldn’t have happened,” Ruffino said.

He’s also collaborating with the San Diego Re-Entry Round Table, composed of the San Diego County district attorney, sheriff, faith-based representatives and social services. It’s starting a program to help parolees stay on track. The program, “Providing Ex-offenders Driving Alternatives for Life,” or PEDAL, will offer parolees bicycles free-of-charge so they can get to and from their appointments.

A substantial portion of a CRM’s responsibility is to oversee the Inmate Leisure Time Activity Groups (ILTAGS). At California Medical Facility (CMF), CRM Landon Bravo has seen many smiles throughout the Vacaville community as he distributed more than $30,000 raised last year through institution fund-raisers.

CRM Landon Bravo

CRM Landon Bravo, right, unloads donated bikes as part of the CMF Bicycle Refurbishing Program.

To raise the money, ILTAGS submit a request for a food drive. Once approved, the CRM organizes the purchase of food from vendors within the community. The food items are then sold to inmates at a slightly increased price. The profits are then donated to local charities, schools, or other community entities.

For many visitors to a correctional facility the experience can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially for young children. To help create a better visiting experience Bravo oversaw the “Visiting Beautification Project” in CMF’s visiting room.

He solicited donations of art supplies from the community and watched the visiting room come alive with murals of California scenes painted by gifted inmate artists. The beautification project was such a success that Bravo is now looking to expand it to CMF’s hospice unit and the patio area so visitors can better enjoy the last moments with their loved ones.

From soliciting donations for bicycle-refurbishing programs, inmate flower and food gardens, or chairs for religious programs, a CRM’s job can seem unending. But those who do it feel a sense of accomplishment with each completed task.

“I have one of the most positive jobs in CDCR,” Bravo said. “It’s so rewarding to help people out and to just see how thankful they are for what we’ve given them.”

For a previous story in this series, the life of a public information officer, click here.