“If we can change how you see yourself, then you can make better choices.”
Offenders are often held in a bad light even before they’re placed behind bars. But where most would see an irreversible problem, Jeremy Cordova sees the potential for change.
“If you believe that offenders are incapable of changing, then to me, by logical argument, you yourself are incapable of changing,” says Cordova. “You cannot improve, you cannot aspire to be something different or be something better, and you’re doomed to repeat the mistakes that you’ve made. If they’re doomed to repeat their mistakes, then you are doomed to repeat your mistakes.”
Since September 2015, Cordova has been working with the Department of Corrections teaching customer service to the offenders at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex.
“It’s like a business principles and life decisions kind of class,” Cordova explains. “We discuss things like making moral choices, making better choices, how to develop proper leadership in a company, how to handle conflict resolution – many of the business and relationship life decision kinds of choices.”
He also teaches a class at the facility called Thinking for a Change.
“The concept behind that is if you have better thoughts, then you will have better decisions,” he says. “It’s a process where we lead offenders through their decision-making process. If you’ve made a decision, what are the results of that decision? Are you satisfied with those results? If not, how can we work on helping you to make a better decision?”
Getting offenders on the right mental track isn’t simple. Having a criminal record presents challenges, and not just after they leave the correctional facility and start their lives over. The mistakes they’ve made weigh down on them, diminishing their faith in a chance to improve.
“And a lot of them just have that attitude that they will not get better,” says Cordova. “So, we really try and work on improving that attitude, improving on how can you look at yourself and how can you look at your life differently. Because if we can change how you see yourself, then you can make better choices.”
To emphasize his point, he will relate true stories to the offenders, such as one of a man who got out of the correctional facility and eventually became the owner of a million dollar HVAC company.
“There are numerous instances of offenders who have gotten out and are extremely successful in any number of fields,” he adds. “We really try and emphasize that to them, that if they made that change then you can make that change as well.”
He truly treasures the moments of having offenders really stop and think during discussions.
Whether they’re talking about changing attitudes or how to make it in a changing world, he does his best to get them to think.
“Just to see them actually stop and contemplate, those for me are the most important moments. Fortunately for me, I have those rather often.”
The people he works with, their different backgrounds and their support also bring Cordova joy during his work. That alone is the “greatest reward,” he says.
Teaching takes up the majority of his days. When not working at the correctional facility, Cordova also teaches healthcare administration for Colorado Christian University online.
As it turns out, teaching wasn’t the first career choice on his mind earlier in life.
“Me and my cousin used to brag about how we were going to become soldiers, how we were going to protect our grandma and take care of her,” he says.
He eventually did join the Army for 4 years. Unfortunately, he found it didn’t quite fit him the way he had hoped. It did, however, lead him to something better: The National Guard. He joined in 2004 and has continued to have a “wonderful experience” with it ever since.
He began working as a recruiter for the Wyoming National Guard. He has also been a civil engineer, a cop and a computer technician for the Wyoming Air Guard.
As a recruiter, he would be sent to high schools and give classes on his unit. “I really discovered that I enjoyed it, that it really wasn’t work to me,” he says. “I decided I should try this teaching thing.”
This decision later led him to apply for his current position with the Department of Corrections after looking through Help Wanted ads, an action he is happy that he took.
While staying with the correctional facility, Cordova hopes to hone his speaking skills at the same time. Becoming a motivational speaker is his next goal as he develops a portfolio in public speaking.
“The advantage that I have that the DoC affords me is that I’m able to talk each and every day,” he says. “If you want to do a public speaking business or be a speaker or something like that, one of your challenges is who is going to listen to you. I’ve got to find an audience. Fortunately for me, one is built in already since I have this job. So, I just hope to continue to hone my techniques, hone my skills and become a better teacher, become a better speaker and just continue to improve where I am.”
In addition to the Wyoming International Guard, Cordova has spoken for a number of occasions, such as graduations, business meetings and toastmasters.
Human potential interests him most, seeing people being handed a difficult set of circumstances and overcoming those circumstances. Because of that, he would like to use his public speaking skills to assist people in any way, especially in overcoming those challenges.