Latonja Walker has been involved with for the Department of Corrections for nearly a quarter of a century. Over this time, she came to realize that corrections officers can make a positive difference in the lives of the men and women serving time. Walker made it her mission to change the lives of people behind bars, and to help keep young people from making decisions that could lead to incarceration. She recently started a company, J. Bell Consulting, to fulfill this mission.
Walker is a native of Chester, SC.
“Twenty-four years ago, I was coming out of a bad marriage and I needed to work,” Walker said. “I went to the local unemployment office in Chester and applied for a job. I thought it was for a security guard at a bank or a Lowes. When I actually went to the interview, I saw it was a for the SC Department of Corrections. I didn’t realize it was for a prison.”
Although initially apprehensive about taking the job, Walker learned to like it. Over time, she began to see the impact correctional officers could make on people’s lives.
“We are the closest thing that a lot of incarcerated men and women see of outside world,” Walker said. “One thing that I try to do every day is to try to give encouragement. What we do sometimes can be tedious, it can be long, it can be nerve wracking. But once you learn how to effectively deal with the inmate population and also deal with other staff, you can turn around a lot of the things that are going on within the prison system. But it all starts with us. It starts with officers and other staff members within these facilities. I wanted to change out facilities from the inside out.”
Walker began writing down her ideas. One day, she met a man who encouraged her to put them into action.
“It was a man by the name of Mr. David Lewis with the workforce transition initiative,” Walker recalled. “He heard me speak at an alternative to violence project meeting. After the meeting, he said, ‘You're very passionate about corrections.’”
“I told him, I had actually been writing different workshops and different presentations since 2012 that I just had on a flash drive. He told me to bring all my work to him, because he would like to take a look at it. He actually helped me present it to the Small Business Association.”
In 2016, Walker launched J. Bell Consulting. J. Bell Consulting is a Correctional / Criminal Justice Firm that specializes in Staff Development Training, Leadership, Coaching, Institutional Programs and Re-entry Services. If offers a diverse range of correctional training for correctional management and institutional operations. In addition, J. Bell Consulting has programs to challenge the minds of the incarcerated persons to steer them towards a “new way of life.”
“I started with leadership training and leadership management, trying to get people more involved because morale has changed in corrections,” Walker said. “We're dealing with different generations of staff and inmates.”
Walker believes that improving the skills of correction officers is the first step to improving the lives of the incarcerated.
“My goal is to help the staff’s interaction with the inmate population to be better,” she said. “Through better communication and guidance to the brothers and sisters that are incarcerated, we can let them know that there's a different way of life.”
J. Bell Consulting also works with incarcerated people and those who were recently released to help them re-enter society.
“I introduce them to things like financial literacy, re-entry training, and family initiatives to teach them how to reintegrate with their families,” Walker said.
Walker says that it is even more important to prevent people from being involved in the criminal justice system in the first place. She often speaks before community groups to give young people a powerful message: “There is 365 days in a year. It only takes one of those to change your life. I’m trying to prevent that one day from ever happening.”
J. Bell Consulting is the first women-owned correctional consulting firm in South Carolina. J. Bell Consulting can give diverse training and coaching for corrections, criminal justice, and law enforcement agencies. It also provides training to churches, colleges, community groups, and school so they can help their young people avoid incarceration. In addition, J. Bell Consulting holds workshops and presentation to corporations help them understanding the incarcerated population so they can provide second chance opportunities by hiring them in their businesses.
For information on J. Bell Consulting’s training, workshops and presentations, contact Latonja Dewalt-Walker at (803) 209-5610 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, visit jbellconsulting18.wixsite.com/jbellconsulting.