Longtime CDCR employee reflects on career, retirement and the New York Yankees
By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Ventura Youth Correctional Facility Superintendent Mark Blaser recently retired from CDCR’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Inside CDCR caught up with Blaser as he wasted no time enjoying his retirement.
Tell us about your CDCR career.
I started in 1988 as a youth correctional officer (YCO) as a fill-in at Karl Holton Youth Correctional Facility (YCF), and I worked very hard for growth and advancement opportunities. I didn’t want to count on seniority; I wanted to make sure I had the skills and knowledge for when the right time came, and I knew it was up to me to get those skills and knowledge. After a couple years, I took the test to become a youth correctional counselor (YCC).
I only had a two-year degree, but I had two years of work experience as well, but my boss at the time told me that if I wanted to promote quicker, I should pursue a four-year degree. So for the next 14 months, I worked five days a week and went to college. It was hard work, but it paid off, because I did get my four-year degree. I never forgot how important that time of my life was, and also how challenging, so when I eventually became superintendent at Ventura, the last three years of my DJJ career, I took a lot of pride in working around the schedules of four employees who were trying to earn their master’s degrees.
My next stop was at Preston YCF, where I learned about treatment, and how important it was to make sure the youth were taking advantage of that, and the programs we had. That guided me throughout the rest of my career, because I realized this was not a “lock-em up and forget-about them” place. We were here to work with the youth and prepare them for life outside these walls. I also spent time working for Victims Services, and saw the impact we could have on a victim or their family. I got a lot of satisfaction doing that.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen since you started?
When there were 11,000 youth in our 11 facilities, it was all about safety, and there was little opportunity to work on treatment and rehabilitation, unfortunately. When the Farrell lawsuit came around in 2003, that all began to change, and there were mandated changes in everything we did and how we did it. I have always lived by the simple idea that we’re here for the youth, so I focus on what’s best for them. It was very rewarding to send a kid home in better shape than when they had first arrived, and with more skills and hope for the future.
What are your proudest moments with the department?
I would have to say that getting out of the Farrell lawsuit after so many years was a tremendous accomplishment, and it was a system wide success story. Also, early in my career, I worked on legislation that allowed inmates to remain at the adult institutions rather than return to the youth side. That eliminated a lot of trouble and distraction in our facilities. What I’m most proud of is my time at Ventura, when I was able to influence a lot of emotionally stressed staff members. At that time, many of our staff had been laid off due to other facilities’ closures, and many people were on edge about their careers and their future. I felt like I was instrumental in reassuring them that we were here to stay, and that we had a job to do. I was very proud of pulling the team together to get the job done.
What influence did Michael Minor (former DJJ director) have on you and your career?
It’s not lost on me that we did not start making significant changes here at DJJ until Mike Minor was named director. He was a man who had come up through the system, who knew what we could and couldn’t do, who knew what we were up against, and who had the vision and strength to see it through, and motivate all of us to follow suit.
What Mike knew was invaluable, because he was a “boots-on-the-ground” type of leader. He never asked anyone to do anything he would not do himself, and he led by example. Mike brought in a staff of similar mindset, which also knew and understood our system, and could also guide us to where we needed to go. That was a big deal as we went through the lawsuit and the changes that came with it.
When he sent me to Ventura, I felt honored. He told me what I needed to do, and we both understood that I simply had to change the culture there and make it clear that we could and would succeed.
Many people may not know that you played professional baseball in the New York Yankee organization, and now your son Dalton was drafted by the same organization. Tell us about that.
I’m sure you can imagine that it was a fun experience for me, and of course, I am very proud that my son is making his dream come true. He’s currently playing for the Staten Island Yankees, and the field is right across the river from New York City, which has a direct view of the New York skyline. It’s just amazing.
After I retired in July, I spent a couple weeks just watching him play, and enjoying his first professional experience. The Yankees didn’t realize that I had also played for them 30 years ago, so when they found out, they played it up and I ended up doing a number of radio interviews. It’s not lost on either one of us that, for the rest of our lives, we can always say we played for the Yankees. And what an honor it is to share that with my son.
You’ve been to New York. What are your other plans for retirement?
I want to continue to work with young baseball players as a hitting instructor. I have been approached about coaching at the professional level, so I will look at those opportunities. I would also like to spend more time with my wife and family, because we’ve been apart for three years while I was at Ventura, and they stayed in Northern California.
One goal I have is to travel to watch my son play, and enjoy seeing him make his way through the various levels of professional baseball. I will not completely close the door on perhaps working with a juvenile justice agency. I do want to continue to serve in some manner and I’m not that old. I still have a lot of years left.