Criminal Justice: Corrections program graduate wants it all
At 24-years old, Yoneisha Mathes juggles two steady jobs and picks up a few hours in a third as an Armed Security Officer while she sketches out her next upward move. “I’ve got a lot of plans, actually,” she confirms.
There were times early on when Yoneisha could barely imagine what the next week might bring, much less envision a secure future she might one day create.
In foster care from age seven until she was almost 16-years old, Yoneisha found no encouragement or emotional support in any of the homes she was placed. “A whole lot of people doubted me and said I would be like my mom, who was into drugs.” Emotional neglect was made worse by physical hardships. “I went from Mama’s house with no water, no light and no food to a foster home where I slept in the basement; no TV, no bed, just a sleeping bag with a pillow.” She was there six long months.
She bounced from situations of neglect to environments of abuse. Along the way Yoneisha found a mentor who would inject a positive voice into the steady messages of certain failure. With Yoneisha’s counselor’s permission, Cheryl would come to her group home every weekend. “We would go bike-riding or to the beach and she would help me with my homework. She gave me good advice: set goals, achieve my goals and don’t let life get the best of you.”
When she was fourteen, Yoneisha was lifted out of her life of hapless homes when 73-year old Idell took her in. “She opened her home in the midnight hour, with no time to think, and let a strange foster kid stay with her for two years,” says Yoneisha. “She opened her caring arms to me and took me to all kinds of sport events.” It was her first experience of loving support in the foster care system and it prepared Yoneisha for the next hand that would reach out for her.
When Yoneisha was sixteen, her older sister, Destiny, stepped in to legally adopted her. Another safe landing. Those last four years changed the trajectory of her life and gave her the stability from which she might imagine a better life as she entered adulthood. Her previous foster care, family history and lack of support triggered questions that would lead her to important life and career choices.
“Why have so many people in my family gone in and out of jail?” she asked herself. “What goes wrong in a person to even want to do that crime and risk going to jail?” Those kinds of questions stirred an empathy in her to intervene where she might by choosing a career in criminal justice corrections.
By the time she was twenty, she had met her now fiancé, Laquita, who encouraged her to act on her career instincts. Within a couple of years Yoneisha was ready to commit to the education she needed to fulfill her need to influence others toward a positive life.
“I was going to a couple of colleges, but there was a wait list for Criminal Justice classes,” she says. She decided to explore San Joaquin Valley College in Temecula where she could earn her Associate of Science degree in as few as 14-months. “I got all my stuff and went to SJVC and thought a smaller, private college might be better for me. I don’t focus with a lot of people around me. I like a small class and the one-on-one help.”
SJVC’s Criminal Justice: Corrections program curriculum was another fit for her. “We had great instruction, from the gun range instructor, Mr. Michael Ortiz, and the in-class part of the program with Kent Chivington,” says Yoneisha. “We learned new techniques from the book, but applied what we learned on our classmates, as though they were actual inmates (incarcerated).” CJC students were always in uniform and expected to meet specific physical fitness standards, as well as inmate or criminal suspect treatment, containment and communication protocols.
Something as simple as moving prisoners (cell extraction) requires specific behavior controls. “It’s about paying attention to your surroundings at all times,” says Yoneisha. “It’s about working as a team to make sure everyone is safe, and your teammates don’t get hurt while cuffing and moving inmates.”
The instruction CJC students receive includes a lot of hands-on practices from voices they trust. “Mr. Chivington was a Marine and a police officer and Michael Ortiz was a career police officer also,” says Yoneisha. “We got the benefit of their experiences and we were trained how they would train the people they hired out in the real world.”
There were other program perks. “We got CPR certified, physical training, took the gun test for permit to carry a gun, got BSIS (Bureau of Security and Investigative Services) certification, Exposed Firearms permit and Chemical Agent certification (to carry pepper spray, etc.),” she says. “It was all set up for us (in the CJC program).”
The classroom camaraderie was a bonus. “I enjoyed getting to know everybody with different backgrounds and experiences,” says Yoneisha. “It makes you look over your life and realize you’re not the only person struggling, going through hard things. People had parents with drug experiences and violence. We were all encouraging each other to keep going.” She used everything she was given to reach higher, earning a 3.8 GPA and membership in the National Honor Society.
“She was always respectful, professional and displayed a desire to learn,” says Kent Chivington, CJC Program Director. He saw a bright future ahead for her.
Even before graduation exercises in August 2019, Yoneisha had two 30-hours/week jobs. As an Armed Security Officer for Garda World and Temple 57 she splits her time between transferring money from stores to an armored truck to guarding a stockyard where animals are bought and sold. “A lot of money changes hands when buying and selling livestock,” she says.
Those jobs keep her on her toes and always anticipating an aggressive affront. “I like moving around,” she says. “It’s more dangerous just standing in one spot where people can get to know your schedule. “It’s safer in an armored truck because your schedule fluctuates, and nobody knows how many of us are in there. But if you’re standing by the vault all day watching money going in and out, people can get to know your schedule and try to rob you.”
The long work weeks and commute distance between job sites and home force Yoneisha to get creative with her work/drive/home/sleep schedules. “Sometimes I sleep in the car for 3-4 hours before the next job,” she admits. “I just lean my seat back, lift my feet up, cover my face with my jacket and go to sleep.” Still, it’s better than a sleeping bag in a dark basement.
She is not in this career stretch alone. Yoneisha gets a lot of support at home. “Things are hard in life; nothing comes easy,” she reflects. “But Laquita talks to me about anything I mention to her; mental support, financial support – she tells me, ‘You got this’. And she does everything; the meal prep, cooking, she packs my lunches. She picks up my uniform from the cleaners. I don’t do any of that. I just go to work.”
And one other not-so-small thing. Yoneisha is getting her Bachelor of Science degree in justice studies at Grand Canyon University where she expects to graduate in May 2022. “I have a lot of time to do homework when I work overnights,” she explains. She has big plans for that degree. “I want to open up my own security company and I’ve already come up with a logo.” She has plans to share what she has learned in other ways, as well.
“Yoneisha lives her life by encouraging others and telling them, ‘The sky is not the limit – go beyond!’,” says Mr. Chivington, remembering her student days.
“People go through so much without understanding what not to do or who to follow. I want to help and guide somebody to resources. I can tell them, ‘Hey, I did this’, and it might give them some thought about what they might do for themselves. That’s what I hope to do – and that’s a lot for someone who never got that.”
Yoneisha will take that bright light she has finally created in her life and share that warm glow with others. And no one who knows her will be surprised.
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