(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.