JAG students learn about life working in a prison institution

Sheri Samson
The JAG class at Mineral County High School with instructor Victor Montoya (left) and volunteer speaker Randy Samson (fourth from left).

When a student is in high school, a senior may be finding themselves looking beyond graduation into the gateway of their future, whereas a freshman can barely focus upon a distant choice of college or a career. Either way, the Jobs for American Graduates program (JAG) is an established funnel of career information that caters to the high school students seeking a path of employment information. With special speakers and a variety of exposure to opportunities, a student can explore many employment avenues from military to specialty jobs following their high school years.

Randy Samson, a retiree from the California Department of Corrections, recently presented an overview of the diversity that a career within the criminal justice system can offer. With 32 years of experience within the penal system, including a variety of positions that included Protestant chaplain, community resource manager and employee relations officer at the California Women’s Institution in Corona, Calif., Samson enlightened the high school JAG students to the varied positions required within a prison. He also stressed that correctional positions come with a secure pay grade and solid benefits that last into retirement.

“Each prison, no matter where it is located, is a city within itself. It is a 24-hour industry, needing all maintenance people for lighting to plumbing; food preparation; medical and dental professionals; counselors, custody and case managers; administration and management personnel. You are considered a civil servant, conducting yourself in a manner that requires 100 percent commitment toward security, custody and control of that institution, no matter what capacity you work in.”

Samson made the presentation kid-friendly, beginning as the students entered the classroom. Each student was greeted with signage which read, “Welcome to the JAG Prison Institution” at which instructions were given to leave cell phones out of the “institution” and any contraband such as pens, pencils, gum and even lip balm were left in a container near the door, since an inmate could incapacitate a door lock with any sticky substance.

The students were amused by a skit of inmate manipulation, possible scams actually used on employees behind the prison walls, along with true incidents of successes, such as the first dog-training program initiated by Samson in the State of California so disabled individuals on the outside could receive an assisted-living dog free of charge, which an assigned inmate had trained.

Rounding out the presentation, salary ranges were shown as well as the honest working conditions one would face in working in an institutional environment. During one class following the lunch hour, Samson noticed several students laying their heads down. Without notice the door was slammed and the words, “Lock-down, we are on lock-down” were yelled out, waking up every student and bringing them to full attention.

At that point the term “no hostage negotiations” was explained to the students, as well as the procedures which a lock-down would entailed. Students were surprised to learn that locking down a prison meant no one came in and no one went out until it was lifted by security staff, which could be endless hours. A reality check of prison life was presented, not only as a career choice, but as a deterrent to anyone living their life as an inmate.

One story, which Samson shared, told of a lifer that hadn’t seen a dog in 25 years until the dog program came into the institution. Until that moment, the students hadn’t considered that aspect of incarceration but hearing that story some openly reacted. The balance of career information and the reality of choices with consequences made for an interesting presentation to most of the students.

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