Criminal Justice: Corrections graduate attends SJVC after seeing her sister graduate from the Medical Assisting program
SJVC’s Criminal Justice: Corrections (CJC) program on the Modesto campus is focused on employment for their graduates from Day One. “As soon as I started the program, I found out you can start doing interviews (with potential Corrections agencies),” says Coral Hernandez, a graduate of the program. “You get a jump on employment from the get-go.”
Even as education and training prepare students for their eventual law enforcement responsibilities, they are given many opportunities to meet potential employers throughout their school term.
“We have an Open House and have different agencies come from at least half a dozen counties,” says Coral. “I’ve actually met a lot of previous grads (from SJVC’s CJC program) who work there now. They come down to the school, do an interview, test you.” Many students complete their studies knowing a position awaits them.
SJVC’s Criminal Justice: Corrections program has a strong reputation in the law enforcement community. Many agencies and correctional facilities like to recruit cadets who are well prepared and eager to assume the responsibilities for which they have trained.
The Criminal Justice: Corrections program balances classroom study with physical conditioning, restraint maneuvers, tactical training and other defense, containment and control practices necessary for the job. The program attracts students from all walks of life who have an interest in a position of authority that allows them financial security, advancement opportunities and respect in their community.
Now 31-years old, Coral got serious about a career a little later in life. She graduated from high school at eighteen, almost 6 months pregnant with her daughter. Coral worked at McDonalds for six years and had her second daughter, about mid-way. Several of those years she also worked in quality control for a dried fruit company and later for Fed Ex and as a caregiver for an elderly person.
Coral always had an interest in criminal justice, but her parents were concerned because to them it was a very dangerous job. But they came to realize that it was something Coral really wanted and would likely do it anyway.
She enrolled in an 18-month criminal justice program and was just nine weeks away from completion when the school unexpectedly closed. She was devastated but very practical. And it wasn’t long before she had another plan. She was determined that 2016 was the year she would finally succeed in fulfilling her career training dreams.
Coral’s sister had recently graduated from San Joaquin Valley College’s Medical Assisting program and told her the college offered a Criminal Justice: Corrections program, as well. “I didn’t even think about it, I just enrolled,” says Coral. She started the program less than a week later.
School, work and family were a lot to manage, but Coral had a lot of support at home. “My husband (Nelson) has always been supportive of what I’ve wanted to do,” she says. “First thing he did was set up schedules for us.”
Their enthusiasm lasted three weeks. Coral realized she was pregnant with their third child and was about to endure a very difficult pregnancy that would confine her to complete bed rest. She had to stop work and suspend her CJC program to focus on the health and safe delivery of their son, who was born 8-months later.
It seemed that every time Coral got close to her career ambition, she had to watch it slip away. She had always had high expectations of herself and was able to manage the pressure those dreams brought. But now she was struggling to keep that vision of her future alive.
Her dad, Pedro, had faith in her even when she couldn’t find her own. “He bought the car that I drove when I was sixteen years old – even before I had a boyfriend,” Coral remembers. “When I moved out, I told him I’m taking the car with me. He said, ‘fine’. Since 2003, it’s the one that still takes me, brings me wherever I go.” Pedro has always wanted his daughter to get where she was going. Her career in law enforcement would be no different.
She enrolled, once again, in the Criminal Justice: Corrections program at San Joaquin Valley College. “I wasn’t too excited to say I’m going to start school again,” she remembers. “I would go with the flow and see what happens.”
Her CJC Program Director, Donald Martin, stepped in to remind her of why she was there. “He knew what I was going through and was a really big support,” says Coral. “He told me, ‘You’re one of the smartest ones in the class; you can do this.’”
“It was great to see her come back and finish her studies,” says Mr. Martin. “She also volunteered to represent the program (CJC) at community events and helped students from ALL programs. Many of her peers that struggled can attribute their success to her guidance and assistance.”
It didn’t take long for Coral to find a passion for school. “Students are not just classmates, they become part of you and your family. There’s just that connection.”
She threw herself into student life. “In high school I was not in any clubs, extracurricular activities; I didn’t join any sports. But when I started college, I decided I’m going to do anything possible to be involved. I’ll work that student store and would always recruit others to work there. Sometimes I worked a night shift by myself to stay open for evening students. I couldn’t wait to finish my first mod to be a Peer Mentor to new students. I went to Open Houses and wore my school uniform to help with tours and student sign-in.” She had a story of pushing limits that she knew might help others who struggle to find what it takes to have a better life.
Coral was also doing very well academically in her program, making the Dean’s List regularly.
Suddenly, graduation was right there. She had survived every challenge, including being pepper sprayed – a certification requirement. “You know how it feels? Bad! It gets in your eyes, nose, mouth; a burning sensation that’s still there after you come home and shower,” she remembers.
Now Coral is the one with the canister clipped on her belt. She graduated in October 2019 and a month later she began a position with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department as a Correctional Deputy for a locked facility that houses up to 400 inmates.
“You’re there to enforce the rules, supervise inmates and search for contraband,” says Coral. “It’s a jail, so eventually something’s going to happen. You have to start noticing things like a lot of going in and out of the bathroom, who communicates with who and who doesn’t. You’ve got to pay attention to odd behaviors.”
Attitude carries a lot of weight. “The same respect you have for them, they will show to you,” she observes. “It’s all in how you treat them; balance authority with respect.”
Donald Martin gets positive feedback about Coral from her supervisors at work. “Coral has been getting outstanding comments from her training officers, of which a few are Modesto campus grads.”
Coral is finally where she has worked and sacrificed to be for such a long time. She knows others are just beginning their own struggles to realize their own career dreams. She has a little advice that might help them along the way.
“When there’s that one thing at the top of the mountain that I want, I always say to myself: ‘Pain does not last forever. I’m going to trip, I’m going to fall, but I just have my eye on that thing on top of there. As long as you do not lose focus on that one thing that you want, sooner or later you will have it in your hands.’”
Listen to her advice. Otherwise, she might hit you with her pepper spray.
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