By Dana Simas, CDCR Public Information Officer II
Office of Public and Employee Communications
It’s no doubt CDCR employs some of the most courageous, tough and selfless people California has to offer, just take a look at the “Above the Call” stories. But even the most resilient can find it challenging to work in a harsh environment such as prison. Everyone needs support at least every once in awhile and Rosanna Rodriguez helps ensure they get it as CDCR’s Peer Support Program (PSP) Statewide Coordinator.
Depending on the incident, PSP team members may respond to a hospital, or a specific area within an institution/office to assist staff. PSP members listen, answer questions, offer resources and help an employee deal with his/her situation in a confidential environment. PSP team members also facilitate referrals to counseling by non-departmental licensed mental health professionals who have a law enforcement focus.
PSP members are available at all times, but are officially “activated” when an incident occurs such as the death of an employee, assaults, riots, sexual assaults, shootings or other tragedies.
The PSP is comprised of all levels of classifications and has team members available on all work shifts to ensure someone is available in the event of an incident.
“Peer support brings people across CDCR together, from custody to medical to education. The program bridges a lot of those divides and brings people together on a human level,” Rodriguez said of the program. “We unite for the cause.”
Follow-up support is also provided to employees a few days after an incident or even a week later to ensure they are coping as most delayed reactions to a critical incident may take a few days to develop.
The teams have helped countless CDCR employees and their families get through various traumatic events.
“PSP members need to be flexible because different incidents cause different things to come up for different people,” Rodriguez said. “A death at the institution may cause a staff member to have memories of the death of a family member or other traumatic situation.”
Rodriguez has been in charge of the statewide PSP since its most current development in 2010. Before 2010, a form of peer support existed but seemed to fade without a statewide coordinator and inconsistent training for leaders.
With the help of Kathy Manzer, who recently retired as Chief of the Office of Employee Wellness, Rodriguez pulled people from the field who were interested in being PSP members and created today’s program.
In its first year in 2010, PSP responded to 97 requests for assistance. Last year, that number was close to 3,000.
There are currently close to 900 PSP volunteers of all classifications, and the number interested in being a part of the program continues to grow.
Each year, more than 150 PSP leaders statewide participate in a two-day class that includes support-related topics, guest speakers and activities that encourage collaboration between CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions, Division of Adult Parole Operations, Office of Internal Affairs, Division of Juvenile Justice, Office of Correctional Education and Headquarters staff. PSP members also receive 16 hours of annual Peer Support Training in addition to quarterly training that acts as refresher training.
Rodriguez, as the Statewide Coordinator, acts as the PSP members’ and team leaders’ “lifeline,” providing advice on protocols within the program, resources, clinicians and other additional support as needed.
“I have absolutely no doubt there are many people in this department who are still here with us today simply because of Rosanna’s dedication to this program,” said Lt. Matthew Williams, Peer Support Leader at High Desert State Prison as well as a former member of CDCR’s Crisis Response Team. He says Rodriguez’s support has been “tremendous, such a huge asset.”
For members like Lt. Williams, the incidents can unfortunately hit very close to home. Recently, a High Desert State Prison employee was tragically killed in a car accident. In a town as small as Susanville, it’s hard not to see how a sudden death can send ripple effects throughout the community.
Rodriguez said she does her best to remind PSP members at the institutions to practice self-care. “The team leaders are running around taking care of everyone else and we need to make sure that they are taking care of themselves, also. I pick up the phone and talk to them to make sure they are OK.”
Lt. Williams vouches for Rodriguez’s commitment to providing help to others. “I have literally had to call her at 2 a.m. and I expected to get her voicemail, but she answered,” Lt. Williams said.
While the PSP resources are for staff, Rodriguez’s work ethic extends beyond her formal job description.
In one case, a CDCR staff member had separated from state service but had reached out to her for help during a mental health crisis. Rodriguez stayed on the line with the former staff member for more than an hour and when the conversation ended she reached out to the institution where the staff member had worked to see if the PSP team would help him. One of the PSP members agreed to reach out to the former staff member and was able to help him seek professional help. These actions could have saved the former employee’s life.
“As PSP continues to grow, we are touching the lives of hundreds of employees and their families. Whether PSP was provided to support someone who was having suicidal ideations, assist someone who was badly assaulted or comforts someone who just lost a loved one, we are making a difference within our CDCR family, one call out at a time,” Rodriguez said.