Retiring education officer leaves legacy of compassion, professionalism
After more than 10 years, San Quentin’s education front desk is getting a change of personnel. Correctional Officer E. Sanford retired from his long-held post. Sanford worked within CDCR for more than 20 years, most of them at San Quentin, including on Death Row.
Sanford was always of service to both the incarcerated and his colleagues. His strong, humble, and professional spirit consistently shined through with every interaction. He was instrumental in helping prisoners navigate their educational and rehabilitative needs.
“My first day here at San Quentin, I met CO Sanford at the Education Annex sitting at the desk. I told him I was looking for a G.E.D program. I been out of school since 1978,” said San Quentin resident Rodney “Pitt” Baylis. “Sanford said, ‘OG, if a man your age is brave enough to say he needs help on my watch, these are the rules. If you keep the yard bullsh*t on the yard I will keep my home bullsh*t at home. I will make sure this will be a safe environment for you to get the education you deserve.’”
Baylis earned his G.E.D and has since graduated from Mt. Tam College.
Another Sanford rule was that everyone was going to receive respect in the education area, be they prisoners, teachers, volunteers, COs or other staff.
“We are all human beings no matter the situation,” said Sanford, explaining the basis for this rule.
In 2016, Sanford presented a guard’s perspective on rehabilitation as San Quentin held its first-ever TEDx event. The event displayed diverse viewpoints from the incarcerated and from staff.
“My life is on the line every time I come to work,” Sanford said at the event.
Those who pass through the education area will truly miss Sanford’s presence. He has helped many people dressed in prison blues grow into facilitators who help other prisoners. He met incarcerated people where they were, and mentored them to bring out their best.
“I don’t believe the day of his retirement has come to pass,” said Baylis. “Sanford stayed the same man I met 10 years ago. He never pushed his authority. When he had something to say he would pull you to the side and have a polite conversation with you.
“He never pushed the ‘I’m the CO and you’re the inmate.’ [That] power dynamic never showed in him, not once. That wasn’t in his DNA,” Baylis added.
Knowing the daily struggles that prison life imposes on all parties, the incarcerated people who know Sanford thank him for treating us like people no matter our crimes. We remember your TEDx talk, where you left this compelling advice:
“Life has revealed to me that everyone has a chance. I ask that you extend your hand and show them the way to jobs and shelter,” said Sanford, about helping people reenter society. “When I retire, hopefully, I can set up a transition home for the incarcerated.”