According to Chief Deputy Matthew Wade, himself a JSU alumnus, more than 400 former JSU students have been hired over the years to work at the Calhoun County jail or the Sheriff’s Office.
“We hire first-class people and they know that once they get their foot in the door, the sky’s the limit,” Wade said.
For Jeremiah McPherson, working at the jail gives him an opportunity to support his new family while still having time to further his education. The 25-year-old was married in October. Before he started working at the jail, McPherson was unsure of the career path he wanted to take.
“I changed majors twice while I was at Auburn, then I decided to move home and go to JSU, and I needed a job,” McPherson said. When he started school at Auburn he was majoring in electrical engineering and later switched to the pharmacy program. Then he enrolled at JSU, started working part-time at the jail and realized he should be studying criminal justice.
McPherson said when he started he was taking 15 credits a semester and working nearly full-time hours every week. If he wasn’t in class learning about criminal justice he was at the jail experiencing it firsthand.
“Working here has made my classes easier and from talking to inmates you learn a little more about the law as well,” McPherson said.
Now the corrections officer has five classes left before he graduates with a bachelor’s degree and he’s working full-time in a civil service position at the jail.
“I like working here, for me it’s an easy job and I’m comfortable,” McPherson said.
However, McPherson doesn’t plan to stay comfortable at the jail. He said his goal is to work as a probation and parole officer.
New corrections officer Tyler George, 20, had no trouble envisioning what his job would be like. His father is Lt. Allen George of the Anniston Police Department.
George decided to study criminal justice because it’s “in my family and it’s an honest line of work.” He does admit that his father may have tried to steer him towards a job with a higher salary, but after George told his father how serious he was about the profession he encouraged him to pursue his goals.
George has been a jail employee for eight months and said the only hardship he’s faced working part-time and going to school full-time is staying alert in class after working a night shift.
“I took a final once after working a night shift, that was rough,” George said with a laugh.
He said most JSU professors are willing to cut their students some slack after working odd hours if they ask.
George also said that understanding how a jail functions has helped with coursework. He felt confident he knew what he was getting into when he accepted employment and that jails are different from their portrayals in popular culture.
“The biggest misconception is that we’re mean to everybody, it’s not like that. We try to treat everybody with respect,” George said.
George will graduate in 2014 and said he aspires to have a career in forensics.
Lt. Lisa Abernathy, a JSU graduate and overseer of the jail staff, said she views the facility as a training agency for students.
“Few people choose corrections as a career. Our job is to give them the best training and experience,” Abernathy said.
Abernathy also noted that many of the former JSU students go on to work in federal prisons and are considered an asset with their education and work experience.
“We would like to see good officers stay, but we don’t want to hold anyone back,” Abernathy said.
According to Abernathy, nine of the 34 corrections officers working now are current students.
Richards Davis, the head of JSU’s criminal justice department, is confident the affiliation between the university and Sheriff’s Office will continue.
“We have a very good relationship with Sheriff (Larry) Amerson and Chief Deputy Wade. They feel comfortable asking us for good students and we feel comfortable sending them,” said Davis.
Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.