Many correctional officers have long, interesting careers. Some remain nameless and their stories untold. Counselor T. Dunckley worked for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) more than two and a half decades. He worked in many capacities and retired in late 2016.
Dunckley was a counselor for 23 years; 21 of those years were spent working in the prison reception center.
In 1990, Dunckley started his career in the department as a parole agent. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and started work on a Master’s degree at San Jose State University but did not complete it.
“Being a parole agent was an interesting job,” said Dunckley. “It’s a job for a younger person,” he said with a laugh, explaining how there’s more law enforcement work involved, “like chasing someone or jumping over a fence.”
Early in his career, Dunckley worked for Richard A. McGee (1971-1973) evaluating programs and writing research papers. McGee was president of the American
Justice Institute and the first Director of the California Department of Corrections from 1944 to 1961. “McGee kind of standardized things,” said Dunckley.
As a parole agent, Dunckley was assigned to work cases in West Oakland and Berkeley.
He supervised some high- profile cases; ones that gained publicity because of the notoriety of individuals’ criminal backgrounds. He said some of the parolees were involved in the drug trade, selling cocaine.
“One guy ran a crew for Felix Mitchell,” said Dunckley. Mitchell was convicted on federal charges for his involvement in Oakland’s drug trade and sent to prison in the 1980s. Shortly after, he was found murdered in his cell.
In 1992, because of layoffs, Dunckley went to work at San Quentin State Prison as a correctional officer. “It was kind of a shock to me because it was a big change,” he said.
Yet at the same time, he conceded that, “Coming here (San Quentin) was kind of a relief for me,” adding that his family thought it was safer for him to work in the prison than on the street. “They knew where I was and that I was coming home.”
In 1993, Dunckley started working in San Quentin’s reception center. He said reception has not changed much since the 1990s. “It was the same as it is today because inmate behavior is about the same.”
After leaving the reception center, Dunckley worked among general population inmates; then in intake for HIV positive inmates in the old M dormitory; on to administrative segregation as a counselor; and back to the reception center as a counselor.
“A counselor has a differ- ent role,” said Dunckley. “Officers deal with inmates more, but in a more structured way.” He said counselors interact differently with inmates than correctional officers because inmates voice different concerns with uniformed custody staff. He said, for example, in the housing units inmates may ask about a mattress, soap or a cell move. A counselor, how- ever, may have to field questions about transferring to an- other prison, a Board of Parole Hearings report or classification for a work assignment.
Dunckley says there are similarities working as a counselor and a parole agent, in that he sees the same inmates all the time as a counselor, and as a parole agent he saw the same parolees all the time.
Having worked as a local parole agent, Dunckley said he knew the families of some West Block inmates from Oakland and Berkeley. He said there was one inmate on his caseload who he used to supervise on parole. “He was a youngster back then,” he said. “He’s in his 50s now.”
While working for the department, Dunckley also served for 14 years as a job steward for his union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
“I’ve probably read as many grievances as anyone in the state,” said Dunckley. He said union members raise many job-related issues ranging from safety concerns, workload, contracts, grievances and pay.
According to Dunckley, political and economic decisions create many of the changes in the CDCR. Some examples are Proposition 57, former Governor Brown’s response to a federal three-judge panel ordering the department to reduce its prison population, or the 1992 state budget cut that created the layoffs that caused him to shift from parole agent to working as a correctional officer.
Before retiring, Dunckley said his plans were to travel. He said he wanted to work out and take some college courses, perhaps focusing on Spanish and Italian. “I like to take language classes,” he said.
He’s no longer on the department’s payroll, but he’s not anonymous after wearing so many different hats during his long career.