By Rahsaan Thomas
On June 25, after working more than 30 years for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), Officer Sakaria Tagaloa retired. Almost no one wanted to see him leave.
“He’s going to be missed by a lot of officers and inmates,” said M. Allen, a 27-year veteran officer who worked with Tagaloa for 10 years. “He’s lovable, a pleasure to work around. You don’t have to ask him to help; he’s real good people. I want him to stay ‘til I retire.”
Three days before his scheduled last day, Tagaloa sat inside the Prison Industry Authority (PIA) area where coworkers tried to convince him not to leave.
“Stay until I retire in February,” said coworker Joseph Robinson.
Tagaloa responded, “When I make my mind up, I go. I was supposed to retire in December, but my daughter asked me to stay six more months.”
“Then we’re asking you to stay six more months,” said Sgt. D.L. Robinson and Officer Joseph Robinson.
Tagaloa laughed while refusing to change his mind.
Dewey Terry, an incarcerated worker in the PIA area, joined in, saying, “You got to stay.”
Terry said he didn’t want Tagaloa to retire because “he is a fair man. You don’t run across a lot of officers that are fair.”
Tagaloa resembles more of a retired football linebacker than a correctional officer. This is for good reason. He said he played defensive tackle for California State University Hayward back in 77 and 78.
“I had a chance to tryout for the pros, but I was out of shape,” said Tagaloa.
Tagaloa started his correctional officer career in 1985 at Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, which was a level four (maximum-security) prison at the time. He transferred to San Quentin in August of 1990. Tagaloa said at the time, San Quentin started transitioning to a level two prison. Tagaloa preferred working in level fours, but decided to stay at Quentin because it was closer to his family.
He worked all around San Quentin, including Death Row, until landing in the PIA area about five years ago.
“I got used to the changes,” said Tagaloa.
He says he’s learned a lot during his 30 years working as a correctional officer.
“I’ve learned how to be patient, mainly, and how to be courteous and how to make decisions according to what happens,” said Tagaloa. “You grow as you go along. You mature.
“You learn how to not take things personal. When I was [working] in Death Row, with people I heard killed people, I see that [inmate’s] name, and he wants a phone call, and I feel personal for what he did. I had to check myself and not take personal what they did.”
J. Robinson said that Tagaloa became like his brother when they started working together five years ago.
“We got the best work relationship partnership since he’s been here working PIA,” said Robinson. “We knew each other before, but I didn’t really know him. If I have a problem, he’ll help me with my problem. We do things together and do things the same way so inmates won’t be confused.”
Tagaloa returned Robinson’s praise. “He’s like a motivation. He’s a blessed person to work with. It makes work more pleasant. I check him, and he checks me. He’ll let me know if I’m doing something wrong.
“When you work with a good crew, you look forward to coming to work,” said Tagaloa. “I’ll miss some of my coworkers and supervisors that I worked for and the fun, the motivation that makes you want to come to work.”
Tagaloa says that if he stayed until November, he’d get a 5 percent pay increase. However, the extra money didn’t sway his decision. He’ll make 90 percent of his current salary during retirement as pension for working more than 30 years with the CDCR.
“He’s a real genuine person,” said Charles Sylvester, an incarcerated PIA worker. “The job is going to miss him.”
Tagaloa offered his coworkers parting words. “I’m gonna miss all of them that I worked with. It’s been a blessed journey. I want them to be safe and make it through the years that they’re gonna stay. May God bless them all, all my fellow coworkers, supervisors and administrators.”
He added, “When I retire, first I’m going to travel and figure out what I’m going to do after that, and enjoy myself, since I’ve been working for 30 years.”
Enjoying the rest of his life is something Tagaloa earned.