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Jonell Stringer


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Jonell Stringer
Silver bars for Polunsky Unit sergeant a long time in coming

Stringer standing in front of wall with the seal for Polunsky Unit
Polunsky Unit Sgt. Jonell Stringer didn't seek promotion for 15 years while raising her three daughters.
Photo by David Nunnelee
The silver sergeant bars pinned to Jonell Stringer’s starched uniform collar in March were a long time in coming – 14 1⁄2 years, actually.

That’s how long Stringer worked as a correctional officer at the Ellis and Polunsky units before going up for promotion to a supervisory position at Polunsky. But with three daughters at home to raise, she had all the supervisory duties she wanted during those years.

Her daughters – Amanda, Rachael and Brittany – were little girls when Stringer joined TDCJ as a correctional officer at the Ellis Unit in 1990 following a divorce. For three years, she made the 90-mile roundtrip from her home in Livingston to the unit outside of Huntsville each workday.

“I had three daughters and I had to make a living,” she said.

At Ellis, Stringer met her second husband, Scott Stringer, and moved with him to Polunsky in November 1993 to open the maximum-security facility built in her hometown of Livingston. Three and a half years ago she shifted from working in general population to serving as the unit’s field training officer, a traditional five-day, eight-hour job conducive to child rearing.

“It was eight hours a day, holidays off and weekends off,” Stringer said. “I had time to run to dance lessons drill team practices, soccer games. All of that worked so good for me.”

Meanwhile, her daughters were growing up. Amanda, now 26, is a graduate student at the University of Houston at Clear Lake with plans of becoming a family therapist. Rachael, 19, attends Angelina College and 18-year-old Brittany is a senior at Livingston High School with intentions of going to college next year.

And Scott, her husband of 14 years, was also growing, earning a promotion to sergeant last year at Polunsky. It was at his urging that she began to think about furthering her own career.

“He really inspired me to promote up,” she said. “And I felt it was time. I had put it off because the other schedule worked well for the kids. But now that they’re grown, I felt it was time for me to advance and move on with my career. And they’re very supportive of that.”

Stringer was one of 35 newly promoted sergeants to make up the inaugural class of TDCJ’s Sergeant Training Academy in Huntsville earlier this year. She now is one of three sergeants, who under the direction of a lieutenant, supervise 41 correctional officers assigned to the unit’s death row pods on the 12-hour night shift.

She said her previous job of preparing new officers for duty as the unit’s field training officer helped in her transition from security officer to security supervisor.

“It is a difference,” she said. “I know now that I have more responsibility on me. I know now that I have to make the right decisions, to make sure that every decision I make is the right one for my staff.”

Being a mother also helped prepare Stringer for her new supervisory role with TDCJ.

“To be a mother, to raise children and take care of a household, you can supervise,” she said. “I actually think being a female makes it easier for you on the job because you’re used to dealing with children and running a household.”

Stringer, 42, said she wants to learn as much as she can as a sergeant and perhaps go up for a lieutenant’s position before ending her TDCJ career.

“It’s time,” she said.

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