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Alum Vincent Cullen: new warden welcomes the challenge

News + Events : Alum Vincent Cullen: new warden welcomes the challenge


As a student at SF State, Vincent
(B.S. Business Administration, Personnel
and Industrial Relations,
never thought he would find his true calling running
California's oldest and most notorious prison. But he couldn't be
happier with the unexpected turn of events.

A photograph of Vincent Cullen, Warden, San Quentin State PrisonVincent Cullen, Warden, San Quentin
State Prison.

"It's fulfilling beyond belief," says Cullen, who was appointed
warden at San Quentin State Prison in January following a one-year
stint as its chief deputy warden. "Working in a prison, you get to see
the fruits of your labor every day."

Cullen obviously likes a challenge. San Quentin seems perpetually
mired in controversy, and turnover among wardens has been high. The
latest debate swirls over planned construction of a new
state-of-the-art unit for condemned prisoners. Critics want more
emphasis on rehabilitation and less on a "Cadillac Death Row."

Cullen says he's all for beefing up education programs, but notes
there is only so much he can do given a $250 million cut to prison
education programs.

If anyone is up to the demands of the job, it's Cullen says Terri
McDonald, chief deputy secretary of operations for the state Department
of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Cullen "will bring stable leadership to San Quentin with a firm
commitment to ensuring public safety," McDonald says.

Among Cullen's proudest achievements is seeing to fruition a new,
five-story hospital that will serve San Quentin's aging population,
which includes 675 Death Row prisoners. The medical facility opened in
December – under budget and ahead of schedule.

At San Quentin, Cullen manages a unionized staff of 2,050. Even a
quarter century later, the labor relations coursework he took at SF
State as part of his concentration in personnel and industrial
relations is a big help, he says.

"I like to think that one of my biggest successes here is my
harmonious labor relations with collective bargaining units," Cullen
says. "I remember we were taught about the premise for labor unions in
this country and what role they play in the public sector. If I was not
as well equipped as I am to understand effective labor relations, I
wouldn't be successful."

Early in his tenure, he put out the word that inmates are free to
approach him with problems and concerns, and many do. But his work
isn't like its depiction in the movies, he says.

"There's always the scene where the bus shows up with all the new
arrivals, and the warden is there telling them how it's going to be,
reading them the riot act," Cullen says. "On average, we'll get 200 to
350 new arrivals every week. Do you honestly believe I have time to go
down and give a tongue lashing to every new arrival? I really have to
laugh about that."

—SF State Magazine, Spring/Summer 2010

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