Criminal Justice Corrections grad climbs law enforcement career ladder
It didn’t matter that Jorge Castro, at 19 years old, had left Fresno State after a year, gotten married and was working full-time in a grocery store. He knew he was going to be one of the good guys who helped others and kept communities safe. He was headed for a career in law enforcement.
From a young age, Jorge was drawn to the right side of the law. “I saw a lot in the neighborhood I grew up in,” he says. “A lot of folks ended up on the wrong side of the law with drugs, criminal activity, and I saw the struggles they went through. That’s not what I wanted to do. You make a wrong decision and it can bite you later.”
He was never going to take that chance.
In 1997, newly married Jorge and Elizabeth were making it on their own when Jorge discovered the Criminal Justice Corrections program at SJVC’s Fresno campus. “I gathered information: What kind of jobs would I be able to get,” says Jorge. “I’ve always been the type of person who liked structure and most law enforcement departments have military-type structure, ranking, promotions.” SJVC brought a lot of that structure into their Criminal Justice Corrections program.
Jorge was a good student, maintaining a 3.47 GPA. “Fresh out of Fresno State, I still had good study habits,” he says. Jorge balanced work, home life, school and homework. “It was tough, but my wife was 100% supportive. We just did it.”
Jorge started applying for jobs months before he graduated. “Applying for a law enforcement or corrections job is a lengthy process,” he says. It usually involves several interviews and examinations that can span several weeks for each agency position. Jorge applied at the Madera County Department of Corrections.
“Having that degree (Associate of Science degree earned with successful completion of the Criminal Justice Corrections program) put me ahead of other applicants,” says Jorge. “And SJVC certifications were enough to satisfy the department (Corrections), and I could jump right in and start doing the job without taking their training.”
That was the first rung on the career ladder, just after he graduated, and Jorge’s eyes were always looking upward.
After a couple of years, Jorge went to work for the California Department of Corrections and commuted an hour each day to work at a prison in Coalinga. He settled in for 12 years, but he didn’t stop the climb. “I wanted to put my degree to better use, so I applied for an out-of-class assignment as a Correctional Counselor within the prison,” he says.
Jorge did this off-and-on for the last two years at the prison. “Others want that experience and knowledge, and it’s a real bump on your resume. And, now I wanted that job – Correctional Counselor – as my permanent status, even if it meant going to another prison.”
It took him a full year to lock it in, and he did have to move to the women’s correctional institution in Chowchilla. It was 2012 and Jorge was peppering his resume with supervisorial duties, as well.
He was preparing for another step up. “I always had my eye on being a parole agent,” he says. “You work independently, making decisions on your own, based on policy. I could better serve the community.”
Now, Jorge is a parole agent for the California Department of Corrections. He likes the view…and the work. “Parolees might need assistance in housing, substance abuse or residential program placement – either voluntary or involuntary,” he says. “Some are struggling with life on the outside and might need a referral to the mental health department. And we are the first responder, as far as adult or child victimization.”
Then there’s the darker side. “The job is very dangerous,” Jorge emphasizes. “Parole agents carry guns and we’re by ourselves 95% of the time and must always be aware of our surroundings. Open communication with parolees and families is key. You can be the biggest, baddest guy ever, but if you don’t know how to communicate with people, you will have trouble.”
These are important messages that he shares with students on Career Days, job fairs and whenever he is invited into a classroom. He recently visited his old Criminal Justice Corrections program class on the Fresno campus. “Jorge had some life experience he wanted to share that he thought might be beneficial to our class,” says Lt. Richard Martinez, Criminal Justice Corrections Program Director. “He totally impressed the class. After he left, the students were eager and appeared more ambitious than I had seen them in a long time. I appreciate his willingness and desire to give back to the school that helped him be a success.”
Criminal Justice Corrections program student Jose Sanchez was intrigued with what he learned that day. “I like that the PA (Parole Agent) works alone with no back-up unless they find themselves in a difficult situation. I like that the PA (Jorge) started at the bottom and worked his way up. I learned that if I work hard I, too, can achieve my goals.”
Jorge has a lot to come safely home to every day. He and Elizabeth have Jorge (17), Christian (15), Sienna (10) and Kayla (7). They are giving their children the many benefits of their own upbringing.
Jorge wants to emulate his dad, Celerino. “My father was self-employed and was a hard worker,” he says. “It was instilled in myself, my brothers and sister to always treat others as you would like to be treated. I’ve done field work and I’ve helped my dad out in his business (retired mechanic). He taught me to always ask questions and try to do the best at whatever you’re doing.”
That has worked for Jorge. “From the beginning, I wanted a career, not a job,” he says. “I believe it’s been a career for me; an enjoyable career.”
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