Author, artist and professional speaker Mary Ann Radmacher once said, “Unexpected events can set you back or set you up. It is all a matter of perspective.” For Mia Rodgers, captain at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) and commander of the Core Facility in Fort Myers, a positive outlook, a can-do attitude and a sense of humbleness can lead to success, even when the road takes unexpected turns.
“I never imagined I would be in the position I am today,” Rodgers laughed.
Born in Fort Myers, Fla., Rodgers wanted to be an accountant when she grew up; however, unbeknownst to her, life would take an unexpected turn. In 1989, after graduating high school, she went with a friend to a military recruitment office and found herself enlisting in the United States Army. “I was just going with my friend to provide her with moral support. When I got there, they told me I should take the entrance exam, so I did, and that’s how I ended up spending eight years in the military,” she said.
In 1990, during Operation Desert Shield, she traveled to Korea for an 18-month tour, which required her to be separated from her husband and child. Returning from Korea, she continued her service before transitioning to the U.S. Army Reserves. After receiving an honorable discharge, she returned to the public workforce.
“I worked at the downtown Fort Myers Post Office, at Walmart and in other positions after being discharged from the military,” she added.
When Rodgers decided to pursue a clerical job with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in 1997, it was suggested she enter into the Corrections Officer Trainee Academy instead of pursuing a clerical position. “My brother worked in Corrections, but that was his path, not mine,” she said. After completing the academy, she set a goal for herself that in 10 years she would become a lieutenant. “It was six months after the 10 year goal mark that I became a lieutenant,” she laughed. “So, I thought to myself, that’s close enough, I’ll take it.”
In July 2015, Rodgers received a promotion to captain, making her not only one of very few women to be promoted to the position, but she is the first African-American female captain at the LCSO. “I believe that only two or three women, prior to me, have been in the position of captain with the Corrections Bureau,” she remarked.
As captain, she oversees the maximum security facility [the Core Facility] in Fort Myers, which houses all female inmates, medical, direct observation and maximum through minimum security male inmates with charges ranging from petty theft to more serious crimes. Responsible for 150-160 personnel under her command and a facility that has the ability to house up to 1,216 inmates, but currently houses 1,047, she believes in leading by example. While assuming most of the responsibility and liability, she entrusts her officers to do their job and never be afraid to ask for help, which has inspired her to consider a mentoring program within Corrections. “There is a definite need for it. I have people come to me looking for someone to mentor them,” she said. “Because this field is predominantly male, I want to help build up strong females. I want them to be able to stand up and hold their own and tell them to know your job and own your position.”
She shared her idea for a mentoring program while completing one of her discussion board assignments for her interdisciplinary studies (IDS) degree. Rodgers is a student in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office cohort program where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in IDS through Hodges University. “I earned my associate degree in criminal justice in 2000 from Edison Community College [now Florida Southwestern State College],” she said. “Now that I have more time, I’m happy to be going back to get my bachelor’s degree.”
Surrounded by other adults who are in a similar situation, she admits, makes it easy to adjust. Taught by Hodges Professor Gail Sabo, Rodgers appreciates how the program allows for all of the students to get to know one other through assignments, presentations and discussion boards, saying, “She [Sabo] makes things sound so easy to understand. She is always willing to help and makes herself available, which is nice, especially for officers who work various shifts.”
Planning to graduate in 2017, Rodgers hopes to enroll in the cohort master’s program, which is currently being developed by Hodges faculty and staff.
“I would like to one day become a major, but if I do, great, and if I don’t, that is fine too. I believe in dealing with what you are dealt in life. The way I look at it is you just have to keep moving forward and do what is best for you. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but do something.”