In the midst of graduation season, Friday, students of the California State University at San Marcos celebrate their commencement.
One of those students served in Afghanistan while she also fought a very personal family battle at home.
Jamie Childers, 32, served in the U.S. Army for 12 years. Four of those years were on active duty while the remainder of her time was in the reserves.
Now she works at the Epstein Family Veterans Center on the campus of CSUSM where she is graduating.
Childers earned a double bachelor's degree in criminology and history.
She is a survivor of traumatic family criminal history of her own.
“Family influences what you study and your perspective on things. I just wanted to learn from a different perspective, an educational perspective. I'm not just somebody being impacted by the system," Childers said.
Almost 20 years ago, Jamie’s older brother first entered the California prison system when she was just 13. He’s been in and out of incarceration ever since for drug-related crimes and ongoing addiction.
Her brother left behind a son and daughter, Jack and Taylor Harrison.
“It just kind of fell on me to take care of them and guide them," Childers said. "Everything that I do has been for them and to show them they can live a different path than what their dad was choosing.”
Taylor is now 21 years old and a junior at San Diego State University. She still lives with her aunt.
"There has always been just one person who’s been through it all and that was my aunt," Taylor said. "Anytime there was ever anything wrong or upsetting, she was the person that I would go to.”
Jaime’s nephew Jack, now 18, and getting ready to go to college with a wrestling scholarship.
“My goal was to get my niece and nephew through college. I figured if I get them through that then that cycle is probably broken," Childers said.
At the Veterans Center in San Marcos, she is an intern helping manage a program called Veterans to Energy Careers (VTEC). The program is designed to help military-connected students transition from the armed forces to civilian life and into careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.
In 2012, Childers did a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan working as a construction engineer building flight lines and perimeters around U.S. bases.
Her niece is following in her footsteps, studying criminal justice at SDSU with plans that could include a career in the FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration.
“With the background of my dad, I’m also minoring in sociology. I want to really understand the ‘why’ behind why people do things. Why he chooses the life that he lives," Taylor said.
Childers is preparing to apply to law school and begin work on changing the system she says victimized her.
“Making sure that there is a relationship between children and their mothers or fathers whoever is incarcerated because a parental figure for children is important, and our justice system takes that away," she said.
As for her brother who is currently still in prison she said, "Anyone has the capacity of changing. But it is an ongoing cycle. Maybe when he finally gets out, we can help him as well."
This story has also been updated to note Childers is an intern at the Veterans Center.