Byline: By Charlotte Higgins
Subtitle: Meet Francisco De la Fuente
News Category: General News
Francisco De la Fuente’s responsibilities as a correctional officer at CCA Florence Correctional Center in Florence, Ariz., include training staff in best practices for keeping the facility secure and the public safe.
Training is of the utmost importance in his personal life as well, where he regularly prepares himself for participating in extreme relay races that extend over hundreds of miles. And at 59, De la Fuente has no intention of slowing down in his professional or personal life any time soon.
De la Fuente has extensive experience with safety and security in a number of fields. His career began with the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 18, and from there he went to work as an officer for the Los Angeles Police Department and a security instructor at a nuclear plant. He joined CCA in 2003 at CCA San Diego Correctional Facility and was transferred to Florence Correctional Center in 2005. He soon found his previous work with the Marines and other employers had prepared him to work as a security trainer at a facility.
“I am able to help employees understand the responsibility that comes with keeping a facility secure,” De la Fuente said. “Our job is important, and it needs to be taken seriously.”
De la Fuente adamantly believes he couldn’t find an occupation other than training that is better suited to his dedication to security and skills. According to Brian Koehn, warden at Florence, De la Fuente’s passion for his work is apparent through his behavior and the quality of the programs he leads.
“I can always depend on De la Fuente to arrive on time with a positive attitude,” Koehn said. “He is dedicated to making sure all staff meet the security qualifications required by our partner, the U.S. Marshals Service.”
As a facility that houses inmates on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service, employees at Florence are obligated to be regularly trained and certified in the security practices taught by De la Fuente. Some of the concepts are difficult for new recruits to master, but Koehn said that De la Fuente never gives up on any of his students.
“He takes the extra time to make sure everyone understands and passes,” Koehn said. “Staff members respect him for his patience and persistence.”
Patience and persistence are two traits De la Fuente also exemplifies in his personal life as he trains for extreme relays, a passion he has been pursuing for decades. Regardless of whether the relay race is by foot or on mountain bike, De la Fuente said all of the races he participates in require extensive training.
A relay race De la Fuente has participated in since 1996 is the Mojave Death Race, which extends more than 250 miles through the Mojave Desert in California. In teams of six, eight, 10 or 12, participants race in the California heat by foot, mountain bike and road bike over uninhabited terrain with the goal of finishing in less than 24 hours.
This year, De la Fuente participated in the Mojave Death Race on a team of 10. Despite its intimidating name, no one has ever died during the race, but it’s not uncommon for team members to give up after a few miles of racing in the difficult climate. Three of De la Fuente’s team members couldn’t complete the race because of the heat, so the remaining seven had to finish the race on their own. De la Fuente emphasized that extreme relay races aren’t for everyone, but those who do finish a race usually end up counting down the days until the next event.
“It’s a challenge and a great way to meet people who share the same desire to push themselves to the limit and conquer the elements,” De la Fuente said. “It encourages me to train even harder for the next competition.”
De la Fuente insists that age is just a number to him and lounging around at home watching television is not something he foresees himself doing anytime soon.
“I feel like it’s in my DNA to stay active,” De la Fuente said. “There’s still a lot I want to do.”
De la Fuente attributes his mental and physical health to keeping his mind active through training at work and staying fit by training for races. His goals for the future include spending more time with his family and continuing to work for CCA, whether that means remaining at Florence or returning to his hometown of San Diego to help the CCA team there.
Koehn said he has highly valued De la Fuente’s dependability and dedication to the security programs.
“At Florence, he’s led what I believe to be some of the best security programs in the company,” Koehn said.
For now, De la Fuente is preparing for his next race in California, in which he will pedal 100 miles on his road bike with the goal of finishing in under eight hours. At work, he said he intends to continue making memories with his supervisors and the employees he trains at Florence.
“They’ve become like my second family,” De la Fuente said. “As an instructor, I hope they’ve come to share my desire of constantly pushing themselves to be better in all aspects of their lives.”
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