Beyond the Badge, Employee Wellness

Avenal sergeant balances work, family, fitness

Woman in correctional uniform sits on a wall that says Avenal State Prison.
Sgt. Andrea Tuntakit strives to achieve work-life balance.

By Bill Enfield, Chief of Internal Communications
Photos by Scott Sabicer, Director of TV Communications Center

Office of Public and Employee Communications
Additional photo by Lt. Mike Tuntakit, Avenal State Prison

Sgt. Andrea Tuntakit of Avenal State Prison achieves what seems impossible to some – a good balance of work, family and fitness.

And she still gets an average six hours sleep a night.

She runs her own fitness class (using a program called HIGH Fitness), stays active in her children’s lives and works a demanding job.

Inside CDCR caught up with her and she sat still long enough to give insight and advice on maintaining a healthy life amid family and work pressures.

(See the 2020 update to this story.)

Woman leads a fitness class.
Sgt. Tuntakit teaches a fitness class.

Inside CDCR: You are certified in the HIGH Fitness program and now lead a class. How do you accomplish that and the benefits you have found?

Sgt. Tuntakit: I have read a lot of articles and have seen a big increase of awareness regarding CDCR staff health and wellness. I see too many times, Correctional Staff falling ill to heart disease, obesity and other serious illnesses as a result of the high stress we work under. I decided I wanted to take care of myself before it was too late and with all the push from CDCR’s OEW (Office of Employee Wellness) and others figured this is as good a time as any.

I’ve tried a few other courses at my local gym such as Zumba, Bootcamp and Kickboxing but nothing compared to HIGH Fitness. I tried HIGH Fitness over a year ago and instantly became addicted. I know that I can release stress from work/home in just one hour – my happy hour.  I decided to get certified so I could conduct my own classes and share the love with close family and friends. I have met so many new friends along the way who have inspired and encouraged me through this journey.

How do you prioritize the demands of work and home?

I always say family comes first, and so scheduling around them is sometimes difficult. From getting my daughter ready for school, basketball and tumbling practice, cooking and cleaning is a taunting task. Thankfully, my job is flexible and I have a supportive husband, who always encourages me. Being certified really lets me control my schedule; I am able to schedule my classes around my hectic days.

Do you get as much sleep as you want?

In trying to keep the energy up for all of this, sleep is very important. With the long commute I rely on vanpooling which affords me 45 to 60 minutes of rest on the way to and home from work .

At home, if all goes well I get about six hours of sleep and occasional naps on my days off. I work a weekly shift swap which gives me Monday-Wednesday off and gives me more time to spend with my family and get stuff done around the house. Overall, my sleep is good and is very important to maintain an active life style.

Woman watches two children play on a swing set.
Sgt. Tuntakit spends time with her children.

How do you make time for your children and in what ways?

Family time is most important to me, so making sure we spend quality time is at the top of my list. I have a 7-year old daughter and a 2-year old son. My daughter is amazing and helps out so much. She is in tumbling and plays basketball.

I always make sure when I get home from work to sit and talk to both kids about their day at school/daycare. From the little things like cuddling on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and M&Ms watching a movie, to taking my kids out for yogurt, playing outside, going for a walk are fun day to day things we enjoy. As a family, we do bi-monthly Disneyland trips thanks to season passes.

What has been the hardest obstacle or obstacles to overcome?

The hardest obstacle for me was to allow myself “Me Time” without feeling guilty. With being a working mom, wife and the stress of working inside a prison, it was hard to allow myself time to make sure I took care of my personal health and happiness.

I found that doing something you love, even if it’s only one hour a day can take all your stress away or at least reduce it to a bearable amount. Self-care is the only way to be able to manage your life and stay sane long term. Everybody, including myself makes excuses why we don’t have time to do things especially when it comes to taking care of ourselves. I can’t explain how much better I feel staying fit and doing something I truly enjoy has improved the way I interact with my family and my job.

Two children and their parents prepare food in a kitchen.
The Tuntakit family at home.

What advice would you give to others who are trying to balance home and work life?

My best advice is to communicate with your family so they know when you’re stressed, when you need help or if you just need a moment to yourself. Nowadays with cell phones, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat and other distractions we find ourselves staring at our phones for hours feeling busy but getting nothing done.

Take a break from those distractions and stay active with your family, plan meaningful mini trips, go out and enjoy doing something you love at least a couple times a week so you don’t feel like life is cheating you. Always, cherish your family because in the CDCR world time goes by fast.