NEVER GIVE UP ON YOURSELF – RAYSA ORTEGA
Meet Raysa Ortega. Today Raysa is a successful and respected Corrections Officer, mother of three and grandmother to one, as well as avid participant in athletic event fundraisers. But it has been a long journey to get to this place. She has faced many challenges in her life and while she might have been crushed by them along the way, she has not. She has persisted, overcome her barriers, and transformed her life.
Raysa takes strength and motivation from her past, using her experiences as a source of power and not an insurmountable barrier: “although all that junk and turmoil and trauma and stuff happened to me, I ultimately have the choice whether I will be forever be resentful at the world and at society, or am I going to go out there and do something different.”
And as a former participant in Vermont Works for Women’s Step Up to Law Enforcement, Raysa truly is the embodiment of our mission. Raysa was born in the Dominican Republic, and came to the United State, to New York City, with her father seeking medical care for her childhood epilepsy. She struggled with this condition and its effects on her life throughout her childhood. It disrupted her life and interfered with her ability to attend school to the point where, due to repeated absences, Raysa was not able to graduate and had to complete her GED.
Raysa then moved from New York to New Hampshire and then up to Vermont. Once in Vermont, she completed a training program to work at the hospital and found herself working with doctor who was also a coronel. He could see discipline, hard work, and attention to detail in her and suggested she consider working in law enforcement. It was at this time that she saw a flyer for the VWW Step Up to Law Enforcement program which she completed in 2013 and shortly after, joined the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC).
For Raysa, working for the DOC has been more than just a job. It challenges her discipline, self-awareness, and the work that she has done coming to terms with her past. Starting at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility working with women, her outstanding work ethic has been rewarded and she has been promoted to the position of Correctional Office II, moving to the Northwest Correctional Facility in Saint Albans, VT.
Raysa describes her life as having always been about service, “it’s in my nature, it’s what I like doing. I like to go home knowing that I did something, knowing that I made a difference.” This is what she ultimately hopes to convey to her children and to the rest of the community. This is how she lives her life, with the guidelines, in her own words, that
“no matter how life treats you, you go out there and do what it is your heart tells you to do, and if it means to help a child, to help a woman, to help an elderly, to help a guy, that’s what you do.”
Raysa is excited to now have the opportunity to give back and help women in Vermont overcome similar barriers to successful employment.
In non-traditional fields in general, we need to work at changing the culture surrounding employment and shifting the way women think about themselves and think about themselves in relation to their jobs and to men. Because of her experience getting into law enforcement, Raysa has many valuable insights into this aspect of our work. Getting women into non-traditional jobs is much more complicated and nuanced than simply giving them the hard skills to be able to perform the basic tasks. In law enforcement, corrections in particular, Raysa tells us, “it’s not just about putting on the uniform, it’s how you carry yourself, it’s about learning how to enforce the rules, do your job, while being respectful of basic human rights.”
We are so lucky to be welcoming Raysa to our Board of Directors! Her path has been difficult at times but through perseverance and strength, she has overcome obstacles and has been able to not just find a career but joy within herself at her many triumphs. She is now excited to share her experience with the organization and to have a platform from which to share with the larger community.
“This is what I love doing. This is me, having overcome all these odds and now have the opportunity to share what I know, what I’ve learned, and why I’ve gotten so good at it.”