Three strikes didn’t mean ‘out’ for Criminal Justice Corrections career
Justen Roche had always dreamed of a career in the military or law enforcement. “They go hand-in-hand; both are protecting and serving,” he says. But because of a fused spine, broken in his youth while lifting weights, Justen could only physically perform one of those jobs: Law enforcement.
There were still two other obstacles in his way. “I have a lot of tattoos and needed to clear up my DMV and credit records,” he says.
So, Justen spent a few years doing hard labor and warehouse-type work. He wanted to provide more for his wife, Kayla and kids, Austen (10), Chloe (7) and Kasen (4), so he occasionally applied for open positions in jails and other law enforcement agencies. No calls back.
Then Justen became friends with Chad, who worked for the California Department of Corrections. “I was younger than him and looked up to him,” he says. “He was making good money and stood for something.” The friendship rekindled Justen’s interest in law enforcement.
Justen gave Chad all the reasons why he could never have the career he wanted. “He set me straight on a lot of that and told me ‘Don’t stop; quite a few agencies out there are pretty lenient on tattoos and stuff.’”
It took him three years, but Justen began to change the negatives of his life and reposition himself to get to the top of the job candidates list. He started working to improve his credit. The DMV record was a little more difficult.
“After I broke my back, I was kind of limited as to what I could do,” Justen explains. “I couldn’t play sports, but what I could do was drive, so I got some speeding tickets.” Fortunately, those fade out over time and after a few years of a good driving record.
Justen tried tattoo removal and had some success. He mainly wants those on his hands removed, and plans to slowly endure that process.
The biggest step he made toward his career goal was to enroll in SJVC’s Criminal Justice Corrections program on the Modesto campus. It was a difficult 14 months, especially since Justen continued to work full-time.
“The hardest part was just getting there every day,” he says of his evening class. “My wife was an excellent support system, always getting dinner ready while I’d spend time with the kids before going to school. She usually waited up for me.”
One of the things that drew him to the school was the fast pace of the Criminal Justice Corrections program. “It was 14 months, and it did go by pretty fast,” says Justen.
The biggest thing Justen took from the program training was defensive tactics. “We learned to physically control an inmate,” he says. “At the academy, we learned about the use of force continuum. Our presence, alone, is in effect the first level of defense. If that is unsuccessful, verbal is the second level and can progress to physical. We learn to apply those tactics in the field.”
He also enjoyed the physicality of the Criminal Justice Corrections program. “The physical exercise made it feel real. We learned how to gain compliance through pain, using a wrist lock, pressure points, or using your weight as leverage; and how to disarm a gunman or someone with a knife.”
“Mr. Martin (Criminal Justice Corrections Program Director/instructor) had first-hand experience in law enforcement and was extremely knowledgeable,” says Justen. “We saw things through his eyes that you can’t get out of a book.”
“Justen was the first class leader for his academy group, was a high-achieving student, member of NTHS and also mentored newer students in the program,” says Donald Martin.
Justen made Dean’s List and was inducted into the National Technical Honor Society. “That was a good achievement for me,” he says. His wife, kids, mother and mother-in-law came to the ceremony and witnessed that proud moment.
Justen was not short on inspiration to do well in the Criminal Justice Corrections program. “I didn’t want my kids to ever say, ‘Well, you didn’t go to college.’ And, I didn’t want to show them that it would be OK to quit.”
Justen graduated from SJVC in January 2016, and it didn’t take long for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department to offer him a position as a Correctional Deputy.
“It was kind of humbling and eye-opening,” Justen remembers, “on your first day, when you’re thrown into a unit with 70 sets of criminal (inmate) eyes looking at you.”
“Justen is a very successful deputy with Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department,” says Lt. Marco Luna, who interviewed SJVC graduates for positions there. “He has been selected to become a self-defense instructor for the Sheriff’s department.”
“Right now, I want to make sure I do my job extremely well before I take on anything else,” says Justen. “But, I’m not ruling anything out, if an opportunity came up.”
Justen’s vision for himself was long in the making, but he didn’t let his life’s obstacles keep him down. “You don’t have to be this perfect little angel who never got an F (grade) or a speeding ticket in your life. I had to go back and get my GED and worked to clear up my credit and DMV record. Be resilient. If you want something, go after it.”
Strikes don’t have to keep you from the future you want. Just ask Justen.
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