By Tommy Winfrey
Officer Eugene McGhee Jr., 55, retired after almost 14 years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Friday, July 31, 2015. Prior to retiring from CDCR, McGhee retired from the United States Army, where he had served on active and reserve duty for 34 years.
McGhee admitted retirement was a tough decision but he has a good reason. “I have an 8-year-old son that I adopted at birth, and I want to spend time with him. I want to be a good father,” he said.
He added that he had planned to work until 2017, but decided that his son was old enough to travel with him and that was a priority for him.
During his time in the Army McGhee traveled around the world, sometimes in some harsh places. He served in both the Iraq War and the Gulf War.
McGhee joined the Army at the age of 19 and eventually held the rank of E9, Quartermaster. During his time in the Army he was a drill instructor and during the Iraq War he served as a sergeant major in the infantry.
“There is a big difference between the military and CDCR,” McGhee explained. “The structure in the military is black and white; you know if you are doing something wrong or right. In CDCR, there exists a lot of gray areas, and even when you navigate the right way you have to be careful of perceptions.”
McGhee said what he will miss most is, “Talking to the inmates.”
He admitted that he has been inspired by a lot of the inmates’ faith. Being a religious man, McGhee always was appreciative when he had the chance to spread the word of his faith and let the men know there is always hope.
McGhee had a lot of opportunity to do just that in his assignment as a transportation officer. He routinely transported sick and dying men to the hospital and would talk to them during these trips. After getting to know some of the prisoners, they would tell him their stories.
“If the doctor tells them something that they should be doing, to take care of themselves and I see them on the yard ignoring that advice, I’m going to say something to them,” McGhee said.
When asked why he chose to be so proactive in the men’s lives, he said, “I didn’t have any perception of inmates before I started working for CDCR, and from day one I treated people like people.” He continued, “Everybody has done something wrong in their lives. I don’t wish prison on anyone, but I’m a true believer in that God places people where he/she can mold them so that when they learn they can then turn around and help other people.”
He said his time on the San Quentin transportation team was very rewarding. “I have known my partner, Villa Gomez, “The Perfect Hair,” for a while. He is a vet like me, and we are so much alike that we worked well together. He always knew what I was doing, and I always knew what he was doing.”
McGhee said he had fun on the job, but for sure won’t be coming back as part time worker annuitant. “I know that God has something else for me to do, and when God says ‘move,’ I must comply, even if I don’t want to.”
He said he is going to take a break for a while to see where he’s going from here. During that break he will travel. “I’m planning on taking trips to the Philippines, Hawaii, Spain, Germany and many other places.”
Officer McGhee says he is going to enjoy life with his son from here on out.
–Richard Richardson contributed to this article