Sisters pursue higher education while working full-time jobs
Those at California Medical Facility (CMF) might think they’re seeing double, but it’s actually identical twins Jennifer and Stephanie Lewis. The pair work at the Vacaville prison, Jennifer is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist and Stephanie is a personnel specialist. The twins don’t just share the same DNA, they share the same passion for continuing their education. They say they have always pushed each other to succeed.
Both have earned their bachelor degrees, Jennifer in therapeutic recreation, and Stephanie in psychology with a minor in criminal justice. Stephanie is also a certified alcohol and other drug counselor.
As COVID was gaining ground globally, the sisters agreed it was a good time to further their education. The CMF twins decided to start working on their masters’ degrees in social work.
Social work will open more doors
“Social work was the best transition from what I am currently doing. It allows more doors to open for me to be able to move about CDCR,” says Jennifer.
Stephanie said social work is a way to help more people.
“I realized I wanted to be able to do more for people and assist them with their goals. In order to do anything with people for mental health, you have to obtain a master’s or doctorate level education.”
The twins have been pursuing their master’s on top of working 40 hours each week at CMF. They are also interning up to 16 hours weekly.
“I work Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Jennifer explains. “It takes me about an hour to get home. By the time I am home, I grab something to eat and dive into my homework. I listen to lectures in the car on the way to work and on the way home. (This way) I can focus on the readings, discussion boards, homework, and papers at home.”
On juggling work, school and an internship, Stephanie said she somehow manages.
“I work full time in personnel, commute an hour, and then I am at my internship site three days per week. Classes are at an accelerated eight weeks so students can complete the program in two years. I am currently in the seventh week of two classes as well.”
What’s it like having a twin sister?
“I have a sister who looks like me, and is also my best friend,” says Stephanie.
Jennifer, who is one-minute older than Stephanie, says “It’s great. We’ve been best friends since birth.”
The sisters are competitive, but in a good way.
“We are both competitive, and we definitely support each other. This whole process of working full time, doing an internship and going to school is very stressful. I am so glad to have her support,” says Jennifer.
“We can be competitive in things, but we usually encourage each other and we also do our own things,” says Stephanie.
Jennifer and Stephanie may not realize it, but because of their hard work, drive and dedication to bettering themselves, they inspire those around them.
“Jennifer and Stephanie Lewis are a true inspiration for those wanting to pursue higher education,” said CMF Warden Jennifer Benavidez. “(Their) ability to balance work, study and their personal life is honorable. They are modeling to everyone around them what commitment means. They are role models for those who may think this is unachievable.”
Warden Benavidez said the twins’ efforts have earned the respect of their coworkers.
“The skills they are learning in their education classes transfer to their work life, enhancing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills while working in their career field. We are very proud and respect the Lewis sisters for their dedication to their education and their careers and are very grateful to have them as part of the CMF family.”
Life goals for CMF twins
Where do the Lewis sisters see themselves in five or ten years?
“I hope to see myself as a licensed clinical social worker and be able to impact people somewhere. Hopefully, it is still within CDCR and within the scope of the Integrated Substance Use Disorder Treatment program. I think that substance abuse treatment coupled with mental health treatment is extremely important,” Stephanie explains.
“I hope to be a licensed social worker with CDCR and have my own practice from home. At least that is the plan right now. It could always change. I would like to work in parole and help a person’s transition from being incarcerated to living in the community. I feel that there is such a huge gap in continued care,” Jennifer said.
Story by Joe Orlando, Public Information Officer
Photos by Clarissa Resultan, TV Specialist
Opportunities for furthering careers
If you’re looking to better yourself, there are resources on the CDCR website offering career opportunities and advancement through education or Department resources. Check with your supervisor and your Human Resources representative. You may want to check out the Upward Mobility Program
Another perk for those working in public service is potential student loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The program allows those with at least 10 years of full-time employment with a qualifying employer, such as a non-profit or government agency, to have their Federal Direct student loans forgiven. For more information, visit https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service
See more stories highlighting CDCR/CCHCS staff.