By Christina Myers. CREATED Jul 17, 2014
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - They deal with murderers, thieves and sex offenders on a daily basis, and when they go home, they are wives and mothers: the women of the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Inside the prison walls in Florence women now make up nearly half of Department of Corrections staff, from the base level correctional officers, to the Major overseeing security, all the way up to Deputy Warden of Operations.
What could be the daunting sound of the prison gate is now a familiar clank to these women.
"I'm aware of what these guys can do and the surroundings, but i've never come in here and had any kind of fear at all," said Major Wendy Hackney.
She has been in corrections for 19 years and she started at a time when there were far less women in the department. In fact, she was the only female on her shift and she did feel the pressure from her male peers.
'I've had a couple of times where you've kind of had to prove yourself a little bit in some of your ranks, but once they learned how you work, your work ethic and how you took care of business, they respected you," said Hackney.
Deputy Warden of Operations Juli Roberts also started as a CO 26 years ago. In a different facility, she said the male officers she began with were more concerned with protecting her and the other females.
"It was never, 'You're not capable of doing this, we don't think that you're our equal.' It was never that, never experienced that one bit," said Roberts.
These women said they feel the inmates actually give them more respect than they do the male COs sometimes. Roberts said they seem to treat women almost as a "mother figure."
"Because you're the one telling them, 'Hey you need to do this or you need to do that, or I need you to do this or that,' and so they take you more as a person in charge," said Maj. Hackney. "A lot of them do respect their mothers quite a bit, so they see you in that same persona."
Still, it takes a certain personality to work behind prison walls, sometimes on your own with a room full of criminals.
CO II Elvira Vasquez said she was nervous when she started 18 years ago, but quickly got over it. Now, she said she sees the inmates like anyone else.
"I see what their crimes are, but you have to, you can't let that bother you, they're still human beings and they need to be treated like human beings," said Vasquez.
That respect for the inmates' humanness is what all three women say is key. That, and standing your ground.
"You have to be assertive... this job is not for everybody," said Hackney. "There are some people that are easily manipulated, and these guys tend to, some of them tend to be manipulators, but you have to be strong; you have to be able to say 'No.'"
When they go home at night they say they have to separate themselves like from any other job and focus on being a wife, a mother, and just themselves....
But in the end, these women said their job is much more than simply keeping inmates under control while they serve their time.
"Go to work every day and try to help them as much as we can, get them rehabilitated for the outside world again," said Vasquez. "That's the best part of it, when you can be their role model and show them there's a better world out there."