By Lt. Mike Tuntakit, AA/PIO
Avenal State Prison

Avenal State Prison (ASP)’s family members recently visited the prison for a day with members of the Peer Support Program (PSP) alongside the Office of Employee Wellness (OEW) to give our staff an opportunity to show families what they do on a daily basis.

Many times families are left in the dark about the prison environment. With the success of CIM’s Staff Support Day, ASP held a similar event with the exception that ASP staff were afforded time to give personal tours at their own work site to better explain their daily duties and stresses.

All guests were checked in at the entrance and reported to the In-Service Training (IST) classroom for accountability and given rules and safety protocols. They were welcomed by Warden Rosemary Ndoh, Chief Deputy Warden Paul Vera, Peer Support Team Leader Lt. John Mendiboure, myself and CDCR Deputy Director of Human Resources Katherine Minnich.

We watched and discussed videos of disturbances and gave explanations of our alarm response, riot control. At the other end of the spectrum we discussed Public Safety and all of the Education, Inmate Programs, Mental Health, Medical Services, Re-Entry Programs, and CDCR’s part in the rehabilitation of convicted felons.

We also showed a video of inmate programs such as Actors’ Gang, where the inmates wore makeup and acted out scripts. It was important for family members to understand that prisons are not all about riots, lock-ups, and angry inmates but that there are inmates working towards rehabilitation and using all available opportunities to become better members of society when they are released.

The tour passed through the entrance gates, a reminder of the electrified fence that surrounded them. A tour of Facility C included a pre-planned alarm activation noting immediate action of staff running to their location.

The guests all admitted when they heard the alarm sound and the activities that ensued, their heart rates immediately jumped. The tour also went into the 270 Dorm unit to see the ratio of staff to inmates, how inmates live and program, and how communication is paramount in the dorm setting.

After the tours, the groups came back to the IST Classroom where all of the ASP Investigative Services Unit (ISU) gave an in-depth presentation of what they do within the prison and brought out many of the contraband and dangerous weapons found inside the prison. ISU also discussed their involvement with all the local Law Enforcement agencies when it comes to Gang Intelligence and warrant services.

After a lunch break with food cooked by vendors, it was back to the tour where ASP and Pleasant Valley State Prison Crisis Response Teams (CRT), along with Avenal Police Department, put on a mutual aid demonstration of “surround and call out” with a “search warrant entry” into a building.

After the demonstration the CRT members spoke to the families and staff, talking about their weapons and some of the major operations conducted with the local authorities. This was a very interactive portion as the families had no idea prison had this type of SWAT team.

After getting a firsthand look of the daily operations behind the walls of prison, the families and staff met with members of the PSP, OEW and the law enforcement chaplain. A comprehensive overview of OEW, Employee Assistance Program, PSP, and chaplain services was conducted and families were introduced to the resources they may need.

Most importantly, they were made aware they are not alone and that they also have access to these resources. This is where families opened up and spoke about their dealings with changes in behavior in their loved ones.

However, by attending this Support Day, they now understood why prison staff don’t talk about their day and need time to decompress before interacting right away when they get home.

It was definitely a day filled with sentiment, understanding, and excitement. To wrap it up, the Warden Ndoh thanked everyone.