True Story: I’m a 26-year-old Lady Deputy Sheriff

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things.  This is the story of ‘Juliet’ and her career in law enforcement.

Note: this is not a photo of Juliet

Tell us a bit about yourself! 

I’m a 26-year-old woman, and you can call me Juliet (the name of one of my favorite fictional law enforcement ladies!). I’m a deputy sheriff/corrections officer. I try to leave work at work as much as possible, so in my spare time I read, make things, blog, hang out with my friends, and enjoy being outdoors or going shopping – same thing as any single woman my age. Basically, I try to avoid thinking about the jail.
Why did you decide to go into law enforcement?
I’ve always been fascinated by it, but I majored in an entirely different field in college. About a year after college, I was in the middle of applying for graduate school. I decided if I didn’t get in, I’d go into law enforcement. Well – I got in. And when I got that email, my first response was a desire to throw up. I stalled as long as I could, considering my options, before I finally told the school “thanks, but…” and began pursuing a career in law enforcement.
But basically, it all boils down to: I wanted a job that (a) was different every day, (b) didn’t trap me in a cubicle, and (c) allowed me to do some good. Law enforcement does all three things.
What sort of schooling/training did you go through to become a deputy?
I attended a local law enforcement academy. It was a full-time academy, 40+ hours a week, for four months straight. Most of it was really a lot of fun. Other parts are incredibly boring – I was going nuts trying to learn the minutiae of traffic law. At the end of all of this, we took the state POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) exam, which was kind of like the comprehensive test from hell.
I’m still not done – I’m required to keep fulfilling continuing education requirements as long as I hold my license.
Tell us about an average ‘day in the life’!
I try to wake up by 5 – whether that’s AM or PM depends on if I’m on nights or days. I work 7-7 and we rotate day and nights every few months, but I have to be there no later than 6:45 for briefing. I’m assigned to work to a post in the jail – usually I work by myself in one of the female pods, with about 40 to 50 inmates, but sometimes I might work as an escort and take inmates places, or at Control where I open doors throughout the facility for people.
In the pods, days can be hectic, since there’s generally court and programs going on, and you have the inmates out in the common area for a good chunk of the time. Nights are easier – you have to make your rounds and keep an eye on watches (inmates who might have medical problems or threatened suicide), but you get more time to relax. Every day, regardless of what shift I’m on, I have to inventory everything I’m supposed to have, inspect the cells and common areas, and perform counts at certain points to make sure I’ve got everyone I’m supposed to have.
What are some of the craziest things that have happened to you?
It’s absolutely amazing what some of these people will do – I’ve had them dive off upper bunks onto concrete floors because they wanted to go to the hospital and get narcotics. Searching their belongings means you stumble across some interesting improvised sex toys. They will deliberately clog up their sinks and toilets (you have no idea how much of my job is being a plumber). If I’m in the right spot, I’ll wind up responding to pods when emergencies are called (usually fights), and then it’s a scene of chaos as you try to get inmates back into their cells and ignore the stinging in your eyes and nose if someone’s had to deploy pepper spray.
Have you ever felt concerned for your safety?
In the female pods, you don’t tend to get the open fighting that you do in the male pods. I generally feel pretty safe there. I try to stay up-to-date with my defensive tactics – I’m hoping to start jujitsu lessons soon.
The threat is definitely real though, and I try to stay constantly vigilant to what’s going on. One of the most important things though is that these inmates, for the most part, have hope. Jails are intended to hold people awaiting trial, or who’ve been sentenced to less than a year. Prisons hold people who’ve been sentenced to longer periods, and those people tend to lose hope and be more dangerous as a result. I don’t think I’d feel nearly as safe working in a prison.
How do your friends and family feel about your job?
They’ve all been so supportive of my ambitions – I couldn’t have made it through academy without my parents! My schedule is a bit tough to work around, but my parents are both paramedics – we’re all used to having weird schedules. I think my best friend would like to see me more often, but we’ll be moving into a house together in a couple months so it’ll be easier to hang out then!
What are the best parts of your job? The most challenging?
I love being able to step into a situation, take charge of it, and fix it. I love being able to make a positive impact on the lives of the inmates I work with. I spend a lot of time with these people and I always try to impress on them that just because they’ve made some bad choices in the past doesn’t mean they have to make those choices in the future. I really have some hope that once they get out, some of these people will be able to rebuild their lives and live well.
The most challenging part is definitely being patient. I’m part kindergarten teacher and part counselor. Everyone in the jail is under a lot of stress, and they all deal with it in different ways, but some manage a lot better than others. The squabbling drives me insane sometimes. And as much as I love wearing my BDUs and combat boots to work, when I put on that uniform, I’m an enemy to some people. I can’t go to the store or even fuel my car without feeling the looks I’m getting. The weight of my gun on my hip is sometimes incredibly comforting because it means I can defend myself if need be. It’s ironic that I fear more for my safety out in public than I do in the jail.
Do you think you’ll do this work forever?
I would like to go over to patrol eventually. I don’t know about what I’ll do long-term. I would like to go into investigations and be a detective (although it’s not like what you see on TV – WAAAAAAAYYYY more paperwork). I honestly don’t tend to think too long-term in general. But I truly love my job, and I want to do it for as long as it’s right.
What advice would you give to others thinking about going into law enforcement?
You don’t necessarily need a squeaky-clean background – but you DO need to be honest about everything in your background. You’ll have a background check done and they WILL find everything they can. Eat right and stay physically fit, because this job is incredibly physically demanding. If you really want to get into law enforcement, start at the jail, because you’ll develop many of the same skills as a patrol officer. To work in corrections, like I do, you don’t usually have to be a commissioned law enforcement officer – it just allows me to do some things that others can’t, like transport people. I would say 80% of my co-workers are non-commissioned corrections officers. And keep outside interests going, because this job will eat you alive if it gets the chance, but if it’s truly right for you, there’s nothing better.Thanks so much for sharing, Juliet!  Do you guys have any questions for her?

photo by mike schinkel, cc

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  1. Anonymous

    I can only imagine how many people will ask you this question – but how do you feel about Orange is the New Black? Is it somewhat representative of what you face day to day?

    • Juliet

      I haven't actually seen it yet! I'm debating whether I want to – I tend to want to leave work behind. On the other hand, it's popular and I've heard it's good, so I'll probably try a couple episodes. I will say though, from the promo pictures I've seen, the hairstyles are definitely unrealistic and the people are much prettier. I see a lot of people with "meth mouth" every day – black, rotting teeth (it makes me gag!) – and people who look like they're probably in their sixties and then you look at their records and they're 45. The lifestyle that puts most people in prison is not a gentle one.

  2. Anonymous

    You're kidding yourself if you think you're "doing some good" and making "a positive impact" on the people you're holding in cages. This prison system (there are more black men currently in prison than were enslaved in 1850, and more black people currently in prison in the US than South Africa imprisoned during apartheid) is the new Jim Crow, and it's something our grandchildren will be ashamed of.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I'm sure you realize this, but Juliet is not personally responsible for make laws that put people in prison, isn't personally responsible for the variety of socio/economic factors that contributed to the inmates being there, isn't personally responsible for the behavior the inmates engaged in that landed them in prison.

      I totally, totally agree that the justice system is deeply flawed. Even if it were perfect, we'd still have people in prison and someone would still have to work in said prisons.

      I think it would be more effective to direct your anger at the system (and maybe volunteer with inmates or write to your senator about your concerns) rather than commenting on a stranger's job choice 🙂

    • Juliet

      Here's how I figure I'm doing some good – there are some people who really want to change what they're doing that lands them in jail repeatedly, and I try to give them tools to help them. I have met some lovely people in jail, and I think they have a chance – I want to help give them that chance.

      I don't make the laws. I don't always agree with the system. It is not my job to agree. It is my job to enforce. The US has the highest population of people in the penal system and I think there must be a reason for that.

      I'm not going into race – I have my thoughts on that but this is not the forum for them. But please, if you feel that you want to change the system, feel free to direct your energy to doing so!

    • Juliet

      Thanks for reading it!

  3. Ninie

    I have no experience with law enforcement (on any side!) so I'm thankful for this article! Juliet – you are REALLY inspiring, I don't think I could do what you do. However, I'm really looking forward to researching some law enforcement related careers now.

    Thank you! and for the record, I think you are doing worlds of good. Your positive attitude and sincerity shine through in your responses.

    • Juliet

      Thank you so much! There are always lots of "support" jobs out there – dispatching, working in records, or working on the court or social services end. My heroes are the social services people – that's thankless work, long hours, but they make a huge difference! I appreciate your response so much!

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