Women In Corrections
Nilda Serrano: Captain
WEDNESDAY, MAY 23, 2018
After more than a quarter of a century with the Jackson County Department of Corrections, Captain Nilda Serrano still loves her job and spending time at what she calls her second home.
“Our second home is in the building and the jail. It has become a second home because I spend a lot of time here and I care about the staff that I work with,” she said. “A lot of people ask me how long have you been there? Why have you been there so long? Because this is what I like to do and I feel that I am given my one little piece of sand to help somebody else.”
After serving in the Army for eight years Serrano started her career with Corrections in 1992 and told herself, “I’m not going to stay here more than five years, but I started liking everything that I was doing. I had great trainers and they pushed me to stay saying, ‘You can move forward here’. I stayed and I am still here with three years to go (until retirement).”
Over the years Serrano worked her way up from corrections officer to become the first female to be promoted to captain and shift administrator in 2016. She is also the first Hispanic to reach the rank of captain.
“We’ve never had any females. We’ve never had a Hispanic so I am very grateful they gave me the opportunity. It shows that it doesn’t matter who you are, if that is where you want to get, that’s where you are going to go,” she said.
Serrano attributes her success to always wanting to learn. When given the opportunity to train as an acting sergeant, she took it. She also asked to participate as a disciplinary officer. “I wanted to learn all the areas, so I was always open to learning and there wasn’t a floor that I didn’t get to work because I would put in a request. That’s going to give you the possibility and probability of being promoted to another position,” she said.
Serrano is originally from Puerto Rico and her skill at speaking Spanish has been a plus for the department. At one point she was the only Hispanic negotiator. She has translated inmate manuals, rules and regulations and inmate screening. She also does translating for the courts.
“I get all kinds of calls in the middle of the day and the middle of the night if they need somebody to translate for an inmate that is in intake. The staff feels that, hey I can call her she is going to answer her phone,” she said.
According to Diana Turner, Corrections Department Director, another of Serrano’s assets is that, “She is known for being a by the book supervisor with a commitment to policy and procedure.”
One thing that will never change is that everybody needs to be treated fairly, Serrano said, officers and inmates alike. “I don’t even look at what they are there for I just know that there is a job that needs to be done. They need to be taken care of.”
“We never know who is going to end up in jail. Your relative or kids, sisters, brothers, whoever. “We’ve had every type and any type you can think of. Professional people, lawyers, football players, all kind of different people come to jail for whatever the reason is.”
According to Serrano it is a correctional facility so it is there to help people. There are programs so inmates can earn their GED and training to help get jobs and prepare them to get back into the community. “A lot of us look at the inmates and say hey what are you doing, you are very smart. What are you doing here?” The facility also encourages treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. “We are continuously pushing them to do something better for themselves. Not for us, because it doesn’t benefit us, it benefits them.”
Kiva Hill: Lieutenant, Regional Corrections Center
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4, 2018
Kiva Hill says a lot of people don’t understand her work and have misgivings about her chosen profession as a corrections officer.
“Depending on where you are from or your background some people have a stigma about jail and jail guards. Some of my friends that I grew up with had a stigma,” she said. “Working there I’ve come to see that no, it’s actually not a bad profession at all.”
Hill has been with the Corrections Department for five years and is now a lieutenant in the Regional Corrections Center (RCC). Working at the jail wasn’t something she had planned but found that she excelled at it.
“It was one of those things. You know how in life you’re not really looking for a corrections type job but you always wonder if I can do that? It was one of those things where I was going to try it and see,” she said. Hill applied for the job, went through the interview process and was offered the job. “So I was like ok let’s try it and it turned out that the people who helped me along the way, who trained me along the way, they made everything so wonderful to where five years later here I am a lieutenant and I’ve learned so much along the way.”
She said being a female working in the male dominated facility, “is most certainly interesting.” When she first started in corrections there weren’t very many women, but the numbers have increased dramatically. But even with the increased number of female coworkers, there are still unique challenges.
“With there being more you still run into challenges where you walk into a module and even with lieutenant’s bar you get comments from inmates. Those things I guess will never go away. But you take them as part of the job and you don’t take anything personal, I’m just here to do a good job,” she said.
Being the mother of twin elementary aged daughters has also had an effect on her attitude. She will sometimes go to their school and talk to the children to let them know that jail is not where they want to end up.
“Sometimes the things you see other people doing you think that they are cool but at the end of the day those so-called cool things will wind you up here and once you come here it is really hard to get out of the system. It’s easy to get in, it’s hard to get out,” she said.
Hill also mentors preteen and teenage girls at Hilltop Residential Center. “A lot of them have already started down the path and I try to get them to realize, hey wake up, because this is not where you want to be.
She not only shows her big heart to the youth she mentors, but also to inmates. As the chairman of the employee recognition committee, she started a coat and shoe drive for inmates.
“A lot of times in the winter we have more people coming into the city side of the jail when it gets cold and when the first snow hits you see an influx in RCC inmates. They will tell you when they get released, ‘All right Ms. Hill I’m going to see you next winter.’ So what we did is we had a clothing drive so that when these people are getting released and transitioning back in to society they have coats, they have shoes.” she said.
Hill is now working to get approval on a project to partner with Harvesters and Abundant Life Church to provide care packages to inmates in need when they are released.
She said, “We already provide them with bus passes when they get released and now we are providing them with coats, clothing and shoes. Then next is simply to provide them with resources and food and that is what we are working on now and hoping to get approval.”
“I really care about that kind of stuff. At the end of the day inmates are people and they come here because there is an underlying problem or thing they are trying to get resolved and if we can meet the physical then maybe they can figure out the rest and we can reduce them coming back into the system,” she said.
In addition to her regular duties Hill is also a member of the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT) for the past three years.
“CERT Team is all about comradery, being there with each other when you are going in to situations where you may walk into a situation where you have to go in and there is some type of use of force. The thing that is going to be important is just making sure that you all have each other’s back. At the end of the day the goal is for everybody to go home the same way that they came,” she said.
CERT Commander Captain John Cloonan said that Hill is now in more of a supervisory position that as a tactical member. A lot of the things she does for CERT are training outlines and training with the Disturbance Control Team.
“Lt. Hill is outstanding in everything she does,” Cloonan said. “She is gung-ho with training, she loves to put training together, she loves to do training so she is a real asset to the team.”
Hill really enjoys her job and said if someone is thinking about a career in corrections she suggests they try it out. “People live their lives not trying things. Try it. Give it your best effort you never know. You can make lifelong friends. You develop skills that you never knew you had. You build confidence, grow your self-esteem and build your interpersonal skills. It’s a fantastic place and if you like it you can move up. One day you may out rank me. I don’t know how because I am ambitious, but you may out rank me. So just give it a try. Why not just go for it? As the slogan says, ‘Let’s go and make things happen’.
Stacey Mack: Administrative Assistant
MONDAY, MARCH 5, 2018
Stacey Mack had been working in the Assessment Department for three and a half years and was looking for a change when she started as an administrative assistant at the Jackson County Detention Center three years ago.
“I just needed a change and to increase my salary and just to do something different,” she said. “In assessment I dealt with the public a lot more. Over here I have mainly just one on one responsibilities with the director and the deputy director. So there is not as much public contact. I kind of like it a little better.”
Stacey has a 20-year-old son and thought of him the first time she took a tour of the facility. “It was difficult to see very young men in the situation that they were in. I don’t know what the circumstances were, but I know that it was just pretty heartbreaking to see that maybe they made a poor mistake and got involved with the wrong group of people. I don’t know what the circumstances were, it was just sad to see them in that situation at such a young age,” she said.
She handles calls from inmate family members. “I get a lot of calls from parents and grandparents of the inmates and I really try to help them out and listen to their whole story, direct them to where they can get the most help they need and just reassure them that someone is listening.”
Stacey said her favorite part of her job is the people she works with. “The folks over here are just great to work with. It’s a great staff, the administration team is very respectful, not super demanding but I just try to help them succeed in the goals they are trying to produce. To make some positive changes as far as their reputation and how the public perceives them.”
“With the administration I see a real strong positive attitude,” she said. “They all want to make changes, they all want to reach the same goal and that is to just make the detention center a safer better place, and that means for the inmates, the workers and the visitors. To be more positive, and that is just my opinion.”
She also believes there are starting to be greater opportunities for corrections officers. “The increase in pay will attract more valuable employees and people that really want to make a difference and be more dedicated to the safety of the inmates and the safety of the staff.”
Rena Childs: Inmate Services Coordinator
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2018
Accepting a challenge from her family has lead Rena Childs to a 20-year career with the Jackson County Department of Corrections.
“People informed me I was too passive and corrections was not for me so that challenge made me come here and I’ve been great ever since,” Childs said. “They said that I was too nice and that I was not going to make it in corrections. ‘Pick another field,’ but I was determined to do it and make it and I’ve made it so far. My brother and other family members were very concerned about me.”
Childs, an Inmate Services Coordinator, said that since the jail is a more male populated facility there are many challenges for women working there.
She said when she first started at the facility inmates would make inappropriate remarks and sexual advances, “You know you had to stand your ground and let them know that no you cannot do that. You have to be very forceful and authoritative, you have to be like that to make sure they don’t cross the boundaries. And once they cross that boundary you have to let them know that it won’t be tolerated.”
Corrections is a career she would recommend for other women, “It is a challenge and you get the training that helps you move successfully ahead in the job. If you are a person who can listen and can follow orders then you should have no problems at all. If you want to be in this type of environment you have to be open to all kinds of changes.”
Childs said the advice she would give to other women starting a career with corrections would be to stand their ground. She said that if she sees something out of order, if another woman is having problems with an inmate, “I will come to help and I will let them know how they need to present themselves in front of an inmate or anybody. You don’t just laugh in front of people and shrug it off because if you do that it is going to come back and they are going to constantly keep doing that over and over. So you need to stop that right now. Most of them do listen. You have to stand your ground don’t just take anything.”
The opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life is what Childs really enjoys about her current position as an Inmate Services Coordinator. She talks with inmates on a daily basis, “We ask them what is going on with them and what their needs are from the facility,” she said. “As long as we communicate with them we have an understanding, if no one communicates with them it creates frustration and can contribute to incidents, so we have to communicate.”
“It is a very important job and I feel like it is awesome,” she said. “I really do, I feel like it is awesome because you really get to help people. “
“If I see someone that is emotional or is crying and don’t know what is going on with them we will sit down and talk. They will let me know what is going on with them, I will research it and follow through with them, let them know what is going on and they say thank you,” she said. “Just hearing one person saying thank you is all I need. I would like to help everybody, but if I can help one person that’s all I need. I love what I do, I really do.”
“I think this is one of my callings to be here to be able to assist other people with knowledge that they are not able to receive from the outside to be able to help them move forward. Say if it’s an inmate and they get released, we have many opportunities for them to move forward if they take the initiative.”
Childs started her career with the department as a Corrections Officer and worked her way up to the Corrections Emergency Response Team and now to Inmate Services Coordinator. “It’s been an interesting journey,” she said.
Childs has two children that she has never really shared her experiences with. They were young when she started at the facility, now aged 26 and 27. “I really don’t take my work home to them. The only thing they knew was that I was a corrections officer and that I went from corrections to CERT to ISC, that’s all they really know.”
Before starting in corrections she worked in electronics for Allied Signal installing components on circuit boards. When the company began laying off staff she decided it was time to move on to a new job elsewhere. “I just wanted to go into a different field.”
Childs is now hoping to stay with the department until retirement and longer. “I just love helping people. Helping people whether it be a coworker or inmate, anybody.”