Corrections Officer: The making of a career dream
Paul Gallardo had a dream. He wanted to be a Corrections Officer. His wife, Katherine, had one of her own. She wanted to become a nurse. But with two young boys at home and jobs that barely kept them above water financially, they needed a well thought out path of education and support.
Their plan had a lot of moving parts and would require serious participation from close family members. It would also take a few years to complete. But they were determined not to lose the focus of their primary motivation: a better life for themselves and their children.
Why was it so important for you to seek a career in corrections and law enforcement?
My brother-in-law, John, works in corrections and getting a feeling for what he goes through daily as a first responder – it just grabbed me and absolutely lit a fire. I looked up to him, and the way he is able to provide for his family was something I could do for my family.
My wife and I had that conversation: ‘What are we going to do?’
What was the plan to make your goal of Corrections Officer a reality?
We made a family decision to move out of our apartment and in with my wife’s parents, and they (Juan Carlos and Esmeralda) helped us out a lot. My wife went to school full-time to get her nursing license, while I worked. Esmeralda wasn’t working at the time, so she watched the boys, took them to school and picked them up. They were both very encouraging and supportive; it was great.
It took 3-4 years, but when Katherine finished (nursing) school and started working, I went to school full-time. When she’d come home from work, I’d go to school. But we both understood that there was an end game to it.
What made you choose SJVC’s Criminal Justice: Corrections program over other options?
I was looking online and within a week I got a tour of the (Temecula) campus. My first impression made me pretty excited. They went over everything I was going to learn, and I had one of those ‘sign me up!’ moments. I went home, talked with my wife and we decided, ‘Let’s go for it’.
What was positive, what was a struggle in the CJC program?
The (CJC) program confirmed that being a corrections officer is what I wanted to do. But, after not being in school for ten years, math was a bit of a struggle. And writing reports was like going back to school and starting over.
There’s a lot of physical training, learning how to place handcuffs on correctly and more defensive tactics that I learned to use. With the physical training and stamina that was required, every day we (classmates) had to reach out and challenge ourselves. But I believe that my head and mentality; I was prepared for it.
What is one of your favorite moments in the CJC program?
I definitely won’t forget getting pepper sprayed in my face! It was part of the training to get exposed. We had watched videos, so I didn’t think that much about how I might react. It didn’t really affect me until I put water on my face – then it was a shock. Throughout that night it flared up.
And, even though I was working security graveyard shift, I graduated with honors and earned a 3.8 GPA.
Where was your first position as a newly minted Corrections Officer?
I work for the Colorado Department of Corrections that houses just under a thousand inmates from first offenders to triple life sentences. We are told that to be a good officer, you don’t act – you react. How inmates respond to you determines how you interact with them.
They have to eat, they have to shower, they have to go to work. Prison is its own world and its own politics. As first responders we have to move quickly if there is an incident and someone refuses to go into lockdown, or if there is a stabbing and someone needs medical treatment or there is a riot.
I’ve never been assaulted, but I’ve been threatened.
Are you in danger?
I don’t feel danger, but I absolutely prepare for it as much as I can. And every day it’s something different. I don’t go looking for trouble, but it does thrill me when the time comes and a first responder is needed. The other day we got a first responder call for an inmate overdose. You never know what to expect.
I don’t really trust anybody in that facility (inmates) because it can all be a manipulation. My head is on a swivel, always alert, watchful. I never let an inmate walk behind me. I’ll stand aside and let him pass and take steps to keep it safe. I say, ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’, but I’m ready to do whatever it takes, and they know that.
What are some of the things you learned in the CJC program that would play an important part in your durrent day-to-day responsibilities and strengths?
Report writing is huge. There’s a model you have to use (at SJVC) to write reports and get graded on it for correct wording and content. Where I work now, we have to submit a report and it has to be approved by our shift commander. If it is not worded correctly, they reject it, and you have to fix it. Because of SJVC I have the confidence in writing a report.
One of the things that SJVC put in my head is to treat all offenders as human beings. That feeling has gotten me a good reputation within the facility and good rapport with inmates.
What is your advice to someone considering a career in Criminal Justice?
This career is definitely not for everybody – both mentally and physically. You have to be mentally focused at all times. You have to keep things calm. We get paid for what can happen, not for what we do when things are routine.
You can tell who just signed up for the money. The way they handle situations; they scare, or they freeze. SJVC’s academy was definitely more of a team, a family, because we pushed each other and cheered each other on. There was that bond, and we stuck together to make sure everybody finished.
What do you get from your education and career accomplishments?
One of the main reasons I became a Corrections Officer is because I could have a career I could be proud of – and my family could be proud of. Every day my son (Paul Jr.) wants to know what happened at work. He tells his friends and brags about me. He says he feels safer because his mom’s a nurse and his dad’s an officer. (Children now include Paul Jr. (11), Matthew (6) and Andrew (1).)
My wife and kids made the sacrifices for years for us to be here. This is definitely not our end game, but we are finally comfortable. We’re at a place where our children can look up to us and we can be the examples of not giving up. They see that they can have a career, if they work hard for it.
Being a Corrections Officer is what I want to retire doing.
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