Serving Her 'Second Family'
Nilda Serrano, new gold bars on her collar, becomes the first female and first Hispanic to rise to the rank of captain in the history of Jackson County Corrections.
JUNE 27, 2016 - jacksongov.org (Also responsible for photographs)
Nilda Serrano smiled proudly as she received the double gold bars insignia for her uniform. Then Rex Tarwater, Deputy Director for Jackson County Corrections, promptly told her she’d soon have to give the captain bars back.
“So we can pin them on you during our next promotional ceremony,” Tarwater explained.
While no date has yet been set to commemorate her promotion ceremonially, Serrano officially assumed her new duties as a Jackson County Corrections Department captain last week. She becomes not only the first female but also the first Hispanic to rise to that rank in the department’s history.
“I’m just shocked,” Serrano said moments after Tarwater announced her promotion June 16 in a conference room at the Jackson County Detention Center. County Executive Frank White, Jr. was there to be among the first to shake her hand.
2016 — A Year Of Historic Firsts
“I know there were a lot of other candidates for this position, and that we were all qualified,” Serrano continued. “I am humbled. I am excited to accept this position. Whatever’s for the betterment of the department is what matters most, as usual.”
White told Serrano, “This has been a great 2016 for Jackson County. We’ve got our first female chair of the County Legislature (Crystal Williams), I’m the first African-American to hold the position of County Executive, and now you are the first female and Hispanic captain in the Corrections Department. Congratulations and best of luck to you.”
After serving in the Army eight years, Serrano embarked on her career with Jackson County Corrections in 1992, telling herself, “Let’s give this a shot, but I’m not going to stay more than five years.” Now more than 24 years later, she calls the Corrections Department her second family. Her No. 1 family includes a daughter, two sons and five grandchildren.
“My kids will tell you this is my first family, and they’re second,” said Serrano. “I go home, go to sleep, then get up and come back here to the jail. I love my job. I love working with people. I love helping people. I love being here. This really is my second family.”
Inmate Workers Supervisor
Serrano left her second family briefly when General Motors transferred her husband (now ex-husband) to Buffalo, N.Y. But she soon returned to Kansas City and, within a week, was back to work as a Jackson County corrections officer. “I left and came right back and have been with the department 16 straight years and more than 20 altogether.”
During her two decades of experience, Serrano has immersed herself in Corrections’ policies and procedures. She has served on the Policy Review Team since 2007 and is emphatic that “our policies are THE LAW for the Department of Corrections.”
Serrano earned her stripes with a promotion to sergeant eight years ago and was again promoted two years ago to lieutenant.
Her duties have also included translating inmate and visitation rules into Spanish, in addition to supervising the inmate workers program. Detention Center inmates being held on non-violent charges and with good disciplinary reports while incarcerated can work in the laundry or kitchen, as well as on crews tasked with keeping the facility clean.
County Executive Frank White, Jr. shakes Nilda Serrano's hand moments after she learned about her promotion.
"She has the experience, the knowledge, the respect of her peers and of the inmates. She has a passion for her job and performs her duties with compassion."
Jackson County Chief Operating Officer Gary Panethiere (far left) and County Executive Frank White, Jr. (far right) were there for the big announcement when Deputy Director of Corrections Rex Tarwater (center) told Nilda Serrano she was being promoted to captain.
'The Ideal Candidate'
Serrano teaches an inmate supervision class in the academy Jackson County recently launched for correctional officer recruits. As one of only three captains in the Detention Unit, she intends to emphasize ongoing training for all officers, “new and old.” The unit’s captains, according to Corrections Director Joe Piccinini, essentially serve as frontline commanders, supervising each shift and assuring “everything is running smoothly and everyone is safe and sound.”
“We had exceptional candidates for this captain’s position, both internally and externally,” said Piccinini. “Nilda was the ideal candidate. She has the experience, the knowledge, the respect of her peers and of the inmates. She has a passion for her job and performs her duties with compassion.”
Repeatedly Serrano stressed the Corrections Officer’s Creed that she and her colleagues “are the inmates’ keeper.” She cited experiences helping inmates get new eyeglasses and secure the court’s permission to view, under the escort of guards, a deceased loved one’s remains.
“It’s so important that we do things like that for inmates — to let them, when no else is there, see a loved one’s body one last time at a funeral home,” Serrano said.
“Security is always the top priority,” she added, “but it is our responsibility to take care of these inmates while they are under our supervision in this facility. We’re not only correctional officers, but are, in part, also caseworkers. We’re here to help.”