Crystal Quintero isn’t someone you would expect to see working in the criminal justice field but throughout her life, she has been blessed with teachers and mentors who are able to see past what the world sees and encourage her to reach for her dreams anyways.
The first teacher to inspire her, she met in high school. He taught criminal justice. Crystal was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair to get around, but her teacher saw something in her.
“He told me, ‘You’re made for this. I hope in the future you continue with it,’” Crystal said. “I carried that with me.”
Crystal ended up graduating from high school and feeling a bit stuck afterwards. She wanted to become an attorney to help immigrants like her parents, but the years of schooling seemed daunting. She stayed home to help her mother with her younger brother but after four years, she was beginning to feel depressed.
“I was feeling this dark cloud bundling up in me,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of these four walls and do something with my life. I need to start my life.’ ”
Crystal thought back to her high school teacher’s words and she decided to enroll in the criminal justice program at UEI College in Oceanside.
On the first day of class, Crystal felt nervous and insecure, but then she met her instructor, Nick Rodelo, a former police officer.
“He told me it would be a really hard career for me, due to my mobility issues,” Crystal said. “He told me, ‘Not a lot of people in this world will understand you but don’t take it to heart. Keep pushing until you graduate and you get a job.’ ”
What struck Crystal most about Mr. Rodelo was that he wore braces on his legs and walked with a cane.
“I didn’t feel left out, seeing him also have issues,” she said. “He didn’t have a wheelchair, but he had a cane and braces on his leg, which I also have. That was eye-opening for me to see I have no limit. No matter the limits I have had in my life, I really had no limit. At the end of the day, you are the person who limits your own life.”
The Criminal Justice program at UEI was much more hands-on than Crystal had experienced in the past. Right away she was taking part in simulations and learning new techniques. When it came time to role play, Crystal was nervous, but she was also encouraged to do it anyway.
“I was very insecure and shy,” she said. “I was told by so many that it was going to be a hard career, or I picked the wrong career, and it wouldn’t benefit me for anything. I always kept all of that in my head, all those bad energies. As soon as I had a conversation with my instructor, all of that went away. He helped me find myself. One day he just told me I’ve just got to do it and jump at it. He never gave up on me and it helped me out a lot.”
Nick Rodelo passed away unexpectedly just before Crystal finished the program, but his words never left her. She continued to strive to accomplish what he knew she could do.
“Her wheelchair didn’t hold her back and no one held it against her either,” said Daniel Rubalcava, one of Crystal’s instructors. “We took care of business. She participated and everything worked out OK. I think she can go anywhere within the criminal justice community and be an effective worker like anyone else … She can do anything anyone else can do. I don’t think there is a limit for her in criminal justice.”
Mr. Rubalcava said he saw Crystal as a people person. She had many friends on campus and had a knack for talking to people that would make her a valuable employee anywhere.
Near the end of the program, Crystal hit her biggest hurdle yet when she began applying for jobs. She interviewed for several security positions but was turned down. Finally, she was encouraged to apply for a dispatch position where she was very quickly hired.
“I still go through it a lot,” Crystal said. “I feel like I can do more and get more education in this field, but I feel like I achieved something I’ve been wanting to achieve since I was a kid. I don’t want to let my wheelchair define who I am. I feel like graduating was another achievement of mine. It reminded myself I have no limits whether I am sitting down, standing up, able to move or not able to move. I have no limits. At the end of the day, the impossible is always possible.”