An Interview With...
Where did you grow up and what were your favorite activities as a child?
I grew up in Southern California and had the privilege of spending the first 7 years of my life on a farm. I loved the animals and taking care of them, building forts with my younger brother, Ryan, and of course, reading piles and piles of books. Every night after I was in bed, I would sneak back up and turn my light on to try to finish an entire book in one night. I was afraid of getting into trouble, but it was worth the risk!
When did you first develop an interest in writing? What were your early inspirations?
I don't even remember a time I wasn't fascinated with writing. The first notable moment of exhilaration had to do with a story my teacher, Mrs. Mock, assigned our class. We were to write our very own story. I created my first set of characters and wrote so much I never finished the story.
I was fortunate to have a Montessori education early on because they encouraged reaching high levels of reading at an early age. I finished my first chapter-book, Charlotte's Web by E.B. White in second grade and was hooked on the magic of books.
When you were growing up, what did you imagine you would grow up to become?
At one point or another, I have wanted to do almost everything. Like most children, early on I believed I would become a veterinarian because of my love for animals. Then I thought I would be a police officer. After becoming hooked on X-Files in high school, I was determined to become a lawyer and progress to the FBI.
What was your educational path and experiences?
My favorite subjects in school revolved around outdoor activities and reading. Therefore, P.E. and English made the top of the list. I was raised on Montessori from Pre-School until the middle of fourth grade at which time I made the difficult transition to public education. My first year in public school I actually got a "D" in Science. I couldn't believe it!
I then realized and developed a strong appreciation for the Montessori school system. Having multiple levels of learning in one place gave younger students strong insight into what to expect and the next level of their education. I missed the small classroom and the one-on-one teaching opportunities. There were also a great deal of activities outside of the classroom.
Our school would visit the planetarium and go on whale watches, we made models of the solar system and studied space. Most of the learning was very kinesthetic, and I learned from feeling how it was done. I tried to make my personal learning environments more conducive to that which I experienced as a Montessori student. This main idea helped me in achieving excellence throughout the remainder of my schooling.
What were your favorite courses in high school and college?
I loved my English classes and enjoyed the social atmosphere of marching band. I played clarinet and became ID Captain of the color guard before heading off to college. By the time I got to college, my time in music really paid off. By joining the college marching band, I was allowed priority registration to plan around the band schedule. This made it possible for me to get into every class I needed throughout my entire college career.
I developed many friendships, and there was no sense of adventure like climbing onto a bus with eighty of your best friends for a road trip to Portland or Northridge or Washington State to support your college team.
How did you become interested in social work and law enforcement? What is your experience in those fields?
By the time I reached high school, I was still aiming for the FBI. I went to school to begin a career as a Criminal Analyst with the California Department of Justice. While simultaneously earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice and filling an internship at Western States Information Network, where I got my first peek at analyzing drug trends.
To support myself in order to continue school and my internship, I underwent a yearlong hiring process with the Sacramento County Probation Department. First, there was a written test, followed by a physical agility test. We had to run long distances in short periods of time, drag a body a certain distance, and appropriately use a restraining machine which it resisted in the opposite direction. If we passed those tests, there was a voice analysis test, similar to a polygraph or lie detector test. The phase after that included undergoing medical tests and then a psychological evaluation, where over one thousand questions were answered and we were interviewed and analyzed by a psychiatrist. A handful of interviews were scheduled as well as a background check. Finally, after that year, I was hired with the title of Deputy Probation Aide.
I thought the job entailed assisting a Probation Officer by doing filing jobs and running errands for them. When I got my letter to show up to work and was directed to show up at the Sacramento County Juvenile Hall, I assumed it was for a tour so we would know the type of clientele we would be working with. After all, I was barely 19 at the time, certainly they wouldn't allow a little kid like me to work in a place with violent youth my same age.
My first day, I was in for a real surprise. Not only would I be working with those same youth, but I would be running day-to-day schedules with them. If they fought, I would have to fight. If they stepped out of line, I had to instill consequences. Best of all, I realized these were people a lot like me. They were kids who were just trying to find their way through a complicated world. I understood that and wanted to help them better their lives.
I left after my first twelve-hour shift, so excited I couldn't sleep. I kept getting promoted and spent the last eight years as a Deputy Probation Officer, working with youth and adults in many varieties of the Criminal Justice System.
How does that experience (and other experiences) influence your choice of writing topics?
Based on the knowledge of drug use and the criminal mind, I've had the opportunity to apply my experiences to nonfiction as well as fiction works.
What was your first published written work?
My first book, designed for junior high school and high school students, was entitled THE TRUTH ABOUT DRUGS AND TEENS: AN INFORMED PERSPECTIVE. I began writing it at age twenty-one and completed it at age twenty-three. Quite a surprise, I came to find out it was helpful for drug addicts as well, in assisting them to determine what the drugs had done to their body and why they felt the symptoms they were experiencing.
After winning twenty-seven awards for poetry, I was encouraged to author a second book at age twenty-five: LIFE, LOVE AND INSPIRATION: A BOOK OF POETRY, written from good times and troubled times. It is comprised of a collection of seventy-five poems written over the course of ten years (from adolescence through adulthood). It is also teen-appropriate and has been enjoyed by adults as well.
Currently, my first adult novel is being released in April of 2010. A four-year project entitled BEFRIENDING DEATH, it focuses on the courage within the heart of all humankind. The story is based on the life of a fictional female assassin who falls in love and struggles to find the balance of life.
While writing BEFRIENDING DEATH, I simultaneously began writing my first memoir, FINDING YOURSELF IN A SUITCASE (anticipated release November of 2010), appropriate for all age levels, where I retrace the steps of personal growth while traveling through the jungles of Costa Rica, poverty of India and beauty of Italy. Sometimes you plan your life to be one way, and life has different plans for you...such as intending to be an FBI agent, and winding up being a peaceful writer making a difference in the lives of criminals in our community.
I try to keep everyone informed of my latest projects on www.InspireJessi.com and for my new books, I have specific websites for each of them:
What do you do if you encounter "writer's block"?
When I encounter writer's block, I change something. I put on different music or brainstorm or take a short walk and re-connect with my thoughts.
What type of medium do you use for your paintings? Do you show your work (or sell it), or do you just paint for yourself?
I began pursuing art a short time ago. As a gift for my mother's 50th birthday, I wanted to honor her by doing something I had never done. I spent two weeks using several mediums: paints, pastels, gel pens, colored pencils, paint markers and more. It was called From Surfing to Filoli. The following year, after I had done a few others in a similar fashion, an aunt of mine who is an artist, suggested I try oil painting. She thought I would love it.
So last April, I did my first oil painting, and a second and a third. I haven't sold any of it, but I have given them away as gifts. Last year I painted for everyone in my family as Christmas presents.
As a latest project, I got the biggest canvas I could fit in my car and painted all night. The painting is currently halfway done. It has been a lot of work but most importantly, a lot of fun.
When you were working with young people in Drug Awareness programs, what did you find to be the main issue(s) they faced?
I found one of the most important issues facing youth in relation to substances is the media. Lyrics of songs, movies and even child-friendly cartoons and shows have a tendency to portray drug use as being a normal part of growing up. They send the message that drug and alcohol experimentation is okay. This message is a fallacy. The supply of drugs will always be present, the power is in our hands when we decide to stop the demand for the drug by refusing to allow its presence in our lives.
Was there a time when your life was not meeting your expectations? How did you get through the tough times?
There was a point in my life where my dreams turned to sand in my hands. What I credit in pulling me through it were two things: One, gratitude for what little things I could find to be happy about no matter how small; and two, investing in myself to become better and expecting greatness even when all hope seemed lost.
How did you become a Life Coach and what specific background paved the way for that career?
After working with challenging populations with a great deal of success, I decided help should not be specifically limited to only those within the Criminal Justice System. I therefore became Life Coach Certified through Coaches Institute International, which helps people learn their weaknesses and utilize their strengths to create balance in life. There are six main areas of life: Emotional, Health and Wellness, Financial, Professional, Relationships and Spirituality. When any of the six are in danger, it weighs on the other areas as well.
Who needs a " Life Coach"?
Anyone who is overwhelmed and doesn't know where to go. Life doesn't have to be a big sloppy mess. It was intended for you to own and create something beautiful that resonates with your heart. I help people find the way to their heart and create a life worth living that is true to them.
What words of wisdom do you have for the students reading this interview?
The most valuable aspect of yourself to invest in is your mind. Things can be taken away, stolen or burned to the ground, but your education is something no one can ever take from you. Take care of yourself and make the best choices to reach your full potential and experience a beautiful life.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
When the world says, "Give up," hope whispers, "Try it one more time." ~Author Anonymous
- 19 June 2010
21 June 2010
© 2010 - Imagiverse Educational Consortium