Prison sergeant pursues degree

IUS Horizon

Brandee Thomas, psychology junior

Brandee Thomas, psychology junior, balances being a student at school with her job as a correctional sergeant at a state prison.

“I have always found the criminal justice system interesting,” Thomas said.

She received her associate degree in criminal justice and has worked at a prison for four years.

Thomas started as an officer and was promoted to sergeant last February.

Her job is to monitor the prison and make sure everyone is in their right place. She said she likes her job because it is not the usual mundane work setting.

“Every night, there’s something different,” she said.

Thomas is on the Correctional Emergency Response Team, or CERT, which means she is on-call if there is an emergency at the prison, or any emergency in the Department of Corrections statewide.

Being a part of CERT is not a requirement for her job as a sergeant at the prison.

There are many reasons why Thomas could be called in for an emergency, including riots or escape attempts.

“I am one of the first picked to be on cell-entry teams,” Thomas said. “I am a certified taser-gun shooter, and I can use pepper spray and [tear gas] if needed.”

She said she has been shot with a taser gun and sprayed with gas and Pepper Spray as part of her training. Thomas said the experiences were painful.

Thomas said she has more than physical stress at work. There are other mental challenges associated with working at a prison.

“There are times where I have just been feeling on-edge all day, even week-long,” Thomas said.

Along with her work, Thomas is taking four classes this semester.  Thomas said she wants her degree in psychology to help her understand the “why” question.

“Why did this person do this?” she said.

Thomas said there are people in prison in need of more than just jail time.

“A lot of inmates know what they did and understand, but there are a lot of people that need help,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the media does not represent the criminal justice system correctly.

“Prison is more of a rehabilitation place,” she said.

Thomas said she sees a difference when inmates take their medication and cooperate with the rehabilitation programs offered.

Thomas said there are programs like GED and college classes available that can make a difference in the quality of prisoners’ lives once they are released.

“I like to encourage them,” she said. “I watch them progress, and it really makes me happy.”

Thomas said her degree in psychology will help her move up the ladder at work.  It will give her more experience at dealing with prisoners with mental disorders.

She said she will be able to better understand their situation and how to help them.

“For example, I can tell when a schizophrenic is about to have an episode and how I can calm them down before things get out of hand,” Thomas said.

Thomas said it is her job to talk to the person and get them to calm down.