Kassandra Carmona stayed home raising her four boys for 10 years but as her children grew, she began to feel a duty to be a role model for them. She decided to pursue a career in criminal justice.
“As a mother of four boys I was triggered,” she said. “I definitely feel that it is important for me as a parent, I want them to be educated and I want them to understand that setting a good example for our society, in the long run, will benefit us. Coming from a Hispanic family, it’s important to me to educate society, to be resourceful, and to have (my kids) not to think of cops or law enforcement as mean or rude.”
She visited UEI College in West Covina and enrolled in the Criminal Justice Program. She felt confident that the training at UEI would help her get her foot in the door with a law enforcement agency but getting started was not easy.
“On the first day of class I remember feeling lost,” she said. “I remember when I was in the classroom my first module was gangs and drugs. I knew somewhat but not to the fullest. When I got to the first lab day my instructor is very hands-on… I remember stepping in and feeling like ‘woah.’ I was second-guessing myself trying to decide if this is really what I want. I felt lost. I felt concerned.”
Kassandra took a moment to reevaluate if this was the right course for her and then jumped in full force.
“She is relentless,” said instructor Alejandro Martinez. “She comes to class from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and when she gets out of class, she hits the gym. She has found her mission in life, that she must be a provider. I commend her for that. She’s definitely a leader.”
Martinez said he could see the change happen in Kassandra. When she first started class, she didn’t know the opportunities she had before her.
“UEI has changed her outlook on life,” he said. “She came to us with really no road map. I think getting these resources and opportunities really opened her eyes that she needs to do what is right for her family. With that shining light she has gotten the opportunity to not only open that door, but she has also knocked down that door and gone for it.”
‘THERE ARE ALWAYS RESOURCES IN OUR COMMUNITY’
Kassandra was motivated by her unique life experiences as a mother. One of her sons has ADHD and is developmentally delayed and she knows how he may be judged.
“This is why I chose criminal justice,” she said. “We study a lot how different people think. Relating to gangs, if you’re an individual who doesn’t fit into society you look into gangs because they make you feel welcome. They provide or you what you don’t have at home… I feel like in the long run, everyone has a different mindset and everyone reacts differently. I feel like as a parent and as a person, being part of law enforcement will help me develop those strategies and allow me to communicate better.”
With developmental delays there are good days and bad days. Kassandra knows so many people experience the same thing and when law enforcement shows up it’s always on those bad days.
“As a parent and as a person I feel like it’s important to educate and let others know they are not alone,” she said. “There are always resources in our community… A lot of people don’t understand. They don’t speak the language. They think they’ll grow out of (developmental delays). I think it’s important to be your child’s advocate.”
‘I’VE GAINED THE ENDURANCE’
UEI’s Criminal Justice Program taught Kassandra how to conduct stops, set up a perimeter, use handcuffs, and de-escalate situations with proper communication.
As she completed her courses Kassandra began applying for law enforcement jobs in the area and was Accepted into the Riverside County Sherriff’s Basic Academy training program. She completed that training in October and is now a deputy assigned to the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.
“I’ve gained the endurance, coming back from cleaning diapers to understanding how the business field works. It’s only better for me,” she said. “I have a whole different narrative of how the work field is and how it works. You learn how to develop your skills, that you may not even realize you have. Anyone can do anything with practice. Practice takes time. My instructor always tells me if you can’t practice you won’t be able to do the job. Practice makes perfect. It’s true.”