‘We are not just law enforcement officers’ | Guest Commentary

With Sunday kicking off National Corrections Officers Week, there’s no time like the present to remind folks that Champaign County is in the market for a few good men and women to serve. “A career in corrections or court security is a great way to support and engage with your community,” says Sheriff Dustin Heuerman, whose department is hiring for both areas. (For more, visit champaigncountysheriff.com and click on “recruitment.”)

The appreciation week, the focus of a recent Champaign County Board resolution, was launched in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, who recognized “the important work of correctional officers often does not receive the recognition from the public it deserves.”

Here are a few questions and answers from four officers doing the job locally, both at the Champaign County jail and courthouse.

CCSO Ananiyah Okunuga

Ananiyah Okunuga

On the job here for: One year and six months.

A typical day starts with … waking up with the birds and getting ready for a day of work. I work first shift so that’s bright and early. I’m usually working in a pod, so everyone isn’t up until about 11.

I walk and make rounds while letting individuals know they have court or have programs that they attend. While making sure everything is accounted for.

The best part of my job is … making someone smile. Coming to jail, people tend to think it’s the end of the world, but for most it’s just a bump of the road.

I hope the public understands that … as a correctional officer, my job is not just to enforce rules and keep order in the jail, but also to make sure an inmate is safe. But I am also a therapist, a nurse and a chef. My job is to support, and encourage individuals from repeating offenses, not to shame them.

I love what I do, and many individuals, once released, thank me for my help.

In my free time … recently, I have been exploring the town with my person and my friends. Any other time I have is dedicated to sleep. I never know how many hours I will have to work, so I always want to be prepared.

No matter how busy you are, always take time for your mental health. If that means taking a 10-minute walk or getting ice cream when you’ve had a bad day, do it. You are human and no one is truly perfect.

The last good book, movie or show I enjoyed was … the Tyler Perry movies. Anything that makes me laugh.

CCSO Aaron Borden

Aaron Borden

On the job here for: Three years and two months.

A typical day starts with … taking my daughter to school. Going to the gym. Lunch with my daughter and watching Disney. Spending a little time with my wife before work.

The best part of my job is … the people that I work with.

I hope the public understands that … the officers at the jail have no perceived opinion for the people that come to jail. That all we want to do is provide them with a safe environment and things that they need.

My free time is spent … at the gym and with family.

The last good book, movie or show I enjoyed was … “Ozark.”

CCSO Jacob Curtis

Jacob Curtis

On the job here for: Two years.

On a typical day … I am working in booking, receiving new detainees from agencies that have made arrests. If I am not in booking, I am training new officers.

The best part of my job is … the people that I work with. No matter what, I know they always have my back.

I hope the public understands … the things we see and deal with daily. People will be brought to the jail and will unfortunately be at a low point in life. It ends up being our job to not only detain them here but also to help them through their low points.

In my free time … I am either with my wife and dogs at the house or at the gym working out.

When it comes to the last good book, movie or show I enjoyed … my wife and I constantly have either “The Office” or “Big Bang Theory” on in the house. Those are the two TV shows that we will always rewatch and never get tired of.

CCSO Tanya Wieczorek

Tanya Wieczorek

On the job here for: Two years.

A typical day is … very busy; I have six kids at home. I wake up get them ready for school. Then take care of my toddlers till the bus comes for my pre-k tot. After that, it’s just me and the baby till the bus comes back for drop off.

Then I get in ready-to-come-into-work mode, which is honestly the same as home life. I care for the individuals that come into our custody the same way as I do my own kids.

The best part of my job is … my co-workers. I couldn’t do it without them. They are my second family as work is my second home.

I hope the public understands that … there is so much behind the walls; we are not just law enforcement officers. We are here watching over individuals — some mentally ill, some intoxicated, some wanting to be disruptive and some just needing emotional support.

Most individuals that are here with us are very respectful and want to make better choices and move on with their lives. We are here 24-7 to support everyone. We are here doing a job most can’t or choose not to do and it takes someone who really cares about their community and neighbors to do this work.

My free time is spent … with my husband and kids. I want to make sure they get the most love, affection and attention I could give them. I prefer to spend my free time with them. On most of my day off, I catch up with my errands such as groceries, laundry and taking kids to practices.  

The book, movie or show I’m into these days is … the show “You.”

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