The Peer Support Team at Pleasant Valley State Prison realized they too needed help after one of their own passed away on the job.

The Peer Support Team at Pleasant Valley State Prison realized they too needed help after one of their own passed away on the job.

Avenal SP teamed up with Pleasant Valley SP to provide grief support

By Don Chaddock, InsideCDCR editor

When tragedy strikes, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) staff members are there for each other through the Peer Support Program. Such was the case when a Correctional Officer recently passed away while on duty at Pleasant Valley State Prison.

On Dec. 8, 2014, PVSP’s staff was still coming to grips with the loss of one of their own. The institution’s Peer Support Team was activated after 47-year-old Officer Donald Daniel passed away. He had been with CDCR for 19 years.

What quickly became apparent was the effect the loss of Officer Daniel had on the peer support team since they were also his co-workers. Knowing they also needed help, the team reached out to neighboring Avenal State Prison (ASP).

In very quick response time, several ASP peer support team members arrived.

According to those involved, they mixed ASP and PVSP peer support members and canvased the institution. One thing the group discovered was the willingness of PVSP employees to share more openly with ASP team members. Some employees were identified as requiring additional help due to their connection with Officer Daniel.

In the afternoon, a Fresno County Sheriff Law Enforcement Chaplain arrived to help. The following day, a licensed mental health professional with a law enforcement specialty arrived at PVSP and conducted one-on-one interviews with those who needed extra support. The clinician advised PVSP to offer additional support after the funeral.

On Dec. 29, the additional support was offered, again with help from ASP’s peer support team.

According to Rosanna Rodriguez, CDCR Statewide Peer Support Program Manager, the program worked the way it was intended.

“It’s impressive to see how our Peer Support Teams and staff came together to support one another,” she said.

Also, many PVSP staff indicated they were doing well on Dec. 29 mostly due to the assistance from the peer support teams, the Law Enforcement Chaplain and the one-on-one interviews with the clinician.

“Avenal’s team was honored to provide assistance to PVSP during this difficult time,” reported Lt. Mike Tuntakit, AA/Public Information Officer for Avenal State Prison as well as a member of the peer support team. “Both teams demonstrated compassion and unwavering support to staff.”

What is the Peer Support Program?

CDCR established the Peer Support Program (PSP) within the Office of Employee Wellness (OEW).  The goal of the PSP is to support employees who are involved in work-related critical incidents and/or facing a mental health crisis. Local PSP teams are available at each CDCR location and consist of volunteer custody and non-custody staff who have the desire and passion to help an employee in a time of need.

A PSP team member is someone who will listen, answer questions and offer resources to help the employee deal with his/her situation in a confidential environment.  PSP teams are activated to help staff cope with the death of an employee or family member, assaults, riots, sexual assaults, shootings, employees experiencing suicidal thoughts, or dealing with personal stressors, among others.

When a critical incident occurs, PSP team members respond to the incident and provide support to all staff involved. A stress debriefing or grief counseling is offered in a group and/or individual session to allow impacted staff the opportunity to vent and learn how to deal with the emotional stress that may occur.

Follow-up support is also provided to the employee a few days after the incident, or at any time after to ensure they are okay, as most delayed reactions to an incident can take time to develop. PSP teams have helped many CDCR employees and their families get through traumatic events that have taken place at work. The team members understand the impact an incident can have not only on the employee, but on their family as well.

Staff may contact their local PSP team members directly anytime they wish to receive support and resources. CDCR has over 900 trained peer supporters who are readily available to help staff.

The Peer Support Team from Avenal State Prison provided extra support to the employees at Pleasant Valley State Prison.

The Peer Support Team from Avenal State Prison provided extra support to the employees at Pleasant Valley State Prison.