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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Criminal Justice: Corrections graduate’s career shoots to the top

August 22, 2019

Criminal-Justice-Corrections-graduate-Tyteyana-McNealTyteyana McNeal wasted no time in acting on her vision of a career in corrections. She knew she was born to move in that environment. “Growing up, criminal justice was always my thing,” she says. “I like to help people, to show them there’s something better out there for them.”

Even when at age 19, Tyteyana found herself a single parent to daughter Lamiyah, she took an eight-hour course that enabled her to work at the edges of the corrections industry as a security guard. It was enough to make her want to wear the uniform and earn the credentials of higher responsibility.

Two years later, she was ready to stretch toward something better, something farther up the line of responsibility. It was going to be a hard reach, but she made the grab when she enrolled in SJVC’s Criminal Justice: Corrections program on the Victor Valley (Hesperia) campus.

The demands of the program were both exhilarating and body-crushing. “I still had my baby fat (from pregnancy) and was out of shape; but after the first two to three weeks, you get in shape,” she remembers. “I was always the last person in the 1.5 mile run every day, and you feel like you can’t do it, but you can.”

Tyteyana loved the hands-on physicality of the program. “The running, training, take-downs; the scenarios when we would have to do cell searches, or climb over a six-foot wall, wear oxygen tanks and crawl through a room to pull out a partner who was ‘in danger’; it was fun. If I could, I’d do it all over again.”

The classroom didn’t have quite the same “fun” element, but it was equally important to all she needed to absorb. “My biggest fear was not making it through the program,” she says. “But I knew I was going through it for myself and my daughter and if I didn’t finish it, I would be failing her.”

Far from failing, she earned As and Bs throughout her A.S. degree-granting program.

It helped that all of instructors had been corrections officers. “It was good that all of this information comes from someone who had been through it. So now (in current job) when all these things happen, I’m not as panicked because I’d already been told what could happen in prisons. I knew how bad it could get in prisons, like self-harming, cutting themselves, homicides.” All those stories eventually became part of her own on-the-job experience.

Tyteyana graduated from her Criminal Justice: Corrections program in 2013, and with the help of SJVC’s Career Services department, went to work as a corrections officer for a state-contracted corrections facility where she sharpened her skills and knowledge.

“SJVC (Career Services) actually helps you with job placement,” says Tyteyana. “We do mock interviews; they write recommendation letters and have resources of people (employers) who will hire you. You’re not only getting a degree; they’re actually helping you to get where you want. They prepare you then set it up.”

She spent almost two years as a corrections officer before making the leap to a position of much greater responsibility.

In 2014, Tyteyana was hired by the Arizona Department of Corrections and quickly assumed the position of Sergeant for that state prison. Everything she ever learned in her Criminal Justice: Corrections program at SJVC is pulled into play during her 12-hour evening shifts supervising 45 staff members that oversee a prison built to house 1,850 inmates.

“Every night is unpredictable, so it’s always good to just be on your toes and always prepared for whatever happens,” says Tyteyana. “There’s always inmate fights, someone requesting protective custody, or decisions about whether the Warden or Deputy Warden needs to be called. You have to take statements, file reports, decide if disciplinary action needs to be taken. Some nights there are no issues, no incidents; other nights, it’s a mad house.”

And she loves it. “It’s crazy, but I work better under pressure. When there’s something going on, it trains you more.”

The inmate population is running at about 1,500 right now and can go from complacency to full riot in a blink over things trivial, territorial or threatening.

“We have inmates who request protective custody because they fear for their lives, or they owe somebody something and need to get out of their cells,” she says. “Sometimes someone who poses a threat is put in protective custody. We have mentally ill inmates who are with general population inmates. I’ve had four suicides while I’ve been in this prison.”

She never gets complacent. Something important is always on the line. “You might have to fight for your life or someone’s else’s life.”

Tyteyana is always looking ahead. “Next year, I’m looking to go to Lieutenant, and think I’ll eventually retire as a Captain,” she muses. “But I’m just so comfortable being a Sergeant right now.”

She has made great gains in her career but enjoys an appreciative look back. She was thinking about that six-foot wall she and her fellow Criminal Justice: Corrections program cadets used to have to scale. “They (teammates) would help you get over it, but I never made it over the wall on my own. But stress can make you stronger; it’s not all peaches and cream.” She finds and scales that wall every day now.

Tyteyana has learned to balance all that life brings her way with what she has done to prepare for all the possibilities.

“I’m a humble person and not someone who shares everything that’s going on in my life,” she says. “But I get excited because I’m the first person in our family to graduate college. It makes me feel good because I’m motivation to my daughter, nieces and nephews. I broke the chain.”

It only takes one person to begin a new chain forming links of hard-won successes.

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