“Wonder Woman is not a fictional character. Wonder Woman is a mindset!”
— Wonder Woman wall poster
2015 started out the same way for Corrections Officer Carol Shields-McCollum just as 2014 had ended. She had tried to pursue her goal of becoming a nurse, but the attempt was not a successful one. She was once again performing her duties at the Clark County jail, which included pill call where medicine was dispersed to inmates.
A couple of years passed, but Carol still had not lost the passion for nursing. A better career and a better life for the single mother with two boys she felt was still worth pursuing. The boys were a few years older now and could be left on their own. Justin the oldest could now drive and take himself to places.
In January 2018, Carol again enrolled in nursing classes, this time at Galen College of Nursing. The schedule was user-friendly for people with full-time jobs. She decided to dedicate most of the next two years to get her two-year nursing certificate as an LPN.
Again an obstacle blocked her path. Changes in jail scheduling would now require 12-hour shifts. A 12-hour shift would not allow her to get to evening classes on time. She was pretty disappointed and stressed out at the new policy.
Carol had a tough decision. Having been in the field for several years, she was making a decent salary. Having to start a new job with no experience and without her education would surely be tough. This is when Carol had the first of many people who supported her in many ways intervene. She was granted a slight schedule variance by Sheriff Jamey Noel. What it required was that in addition to her regular long shifts every other weekend, she had to come in and work extra hours to make up the time.
The following eighteen months would test Carol in every way. After very long and exhausting days that began with leaving home around 5 a.m., she would then be in classes until around 11 p.m. for up to six nights on some weeks. Somewhere between 17-hour days she had to find the time to study for exams and do homework.
I have worked beside Carol for much of the last 10 years. Some days the stress and fatigue were written all over her face. On more than one occasion, she had to operate on just a couple of hours or cat naps for her sleeping needs.
I remember one of her first tough exams she came to me so happy and proud that she had made a high B. It had been a long time since Carol’s days of studying for exams in high school. We all need a bit of validation when entering uncharted territory. With each new passing test score and educational development phase, she grew more confident.
I used to ask her with regularity how many weeks were left. She would grin a bit wider with each week’s countdown. Any doubt was soon replaced with total confidence and even more determination. Her goal was obtainable. The days were still no less long. Missing one of her kid’s events or not attending a family gathering were no less the cost of bettering herself.
I had promised Carol we would visit with her and recount her journey at some point. I wanted her story to be told in hopes that it might encourage other young, single mothers to reach out for the goal of bettering themselves or to have a better career to offer a better life for their families.
As we sat upon her deck the week before last, a lot of pride and emotion flowed. Happy tears and sad tears look the same, but feel immensely different. After reviewing her journey I asked her simply, “What was the hardest part?” I had never seen Carol show any raw emotion except laughter we had once shared on the job. “Missing my boys!” The words were only discernible because I knew what she would say. Carol is a super mom.
She also had to thank, “My mom” (Cecelia Thomas), for all her support and help with all the things boys usually need a mom to do. For the second time as she looked in her mom’s eyes with gratitude, overwhelming emotion filled the moment.
Mom’s pride was evident in the smile on her face, “I am so proud of her. I knew she had it in her. She’s going to have everything she wants.”
On Oct. 1, Carol Shields-McCollum began her new career as a nurse. Resting on her laurels will be just a very short grace period, as she will begin the final leg of her sojourn to get her four-year (Registered Nurse) certification. This time, however, more of the grades will come from practicum and online classes.
I shared last week that Carol has had a certain kind of role model since she was a little girl watching television. Hence the accompanying photograph as a certain moniker seems to have followed her into adulthood.
I won’t say that Carol’s pursuit of her nursing goal necessarily makes her Wonder Woman. I prefer to reference another Wonder Woman poster once captioned, “She needed a hero. So that’s what she became.”
— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.