Pride leads to BA in Criminal Justice

Mary Jackson can look back to her days on the line at the General Motors plant in Janesville and remember how she was making $28 an hour. Now, she can look to that $15 an hour relief position she holds as a Youth Specialist at the Rock County Juvenile Detention Center.

But instead of being bitter, Jackson is proud.

“Other than it’s harder to pay the bills, it doesn’t matter,’’ she explained recently. “When I look back, I have a sense of pride, a sense of ownership.

“I can proudly say I have a BA in Criminal Justice.’’

Like so many of her GM compatriots, Jackson looks at the closing of the plant in the spring of 2009 as an introduction to a new adventure in her life, one that began at Blackhawk Technical College. Hers was the long road – completing her HSED in four months and enrolling in BTC’s Criminal Justice program.

After receiving her associate’s degree at Blackhawk, she took the next step, enrolling in Upper Iowa University through its connection with Blackhawk and eventually completing her four-year degree.

“I liked the intrigue of it,’’ she explained about choosing an area of study not usually associated with women, especially one approaching her mid-40s. “I’m a helper. If there is only one piece of chicken in the refrigerator, I’ll always split it with you. I thought it was a way to give of myself.’’

Her sense of pride is well earned. She recalls how she grew up an abused child forced out of her home at 16. She gave birth to the first of her children at that point and never completed high school. Eventually, she began studying for her GED, which helped her gain employment with the automaker.

But the job hindered her GED plans. “I had always planned on finishing,’’ she said, “but I never had the opportunity, not with working 10 to 12 hours a day.”

That opportunity changed when she accepted the GM buyout.  “The first place I looked to was Blackhawk,’’ she said. “I needed to do something with me. My life had always been a struggle. I knew I had to do it.’’

In August of that year, she began her HSED studies. The rest of the story is Mary Jackson’s academic history.

Now 49, the mother of seven with one child – 14 – still at home, Jackson works as needed on the morning shift at the detention center, eschewing a regular position to give her youngest the attention her other children didn’t get because of her school and work obligations.

“It was hard to hear, ‘Oh, so you’re home now,’ “ she recalled of those 18 hours days when combining work and school. “I missed a lot of volleyball and soccer games. It hurt then.

“But I also knew I had to do it.”