Jess Selby

Jess Selby works as an administrative assistant at California State Prison, Sacramento.

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that features accomplished Galt High School and Liberty Ranch High School graduates. If you are interested in being considered as part of this series or you know a GHS or LRHS graduate with notable accomplishments, career or otherwise, please email Faith Lewis at faithaeriel14@gmail.com or Bonnie Rodriguez at editor@galtherald.com.

Galt High School class of 2003 graduate Jess Selby has thick skin – and she needs it to work in the medical ward in a Level 4 maximum-security prison. Her own medical hurdles have helped teach her to persevere and recognize when her patients are truly in trouble.

Growing up, Selby was on the swim team and played rec and competitive soccer and softball.

“But softball was my love,” she said. “I was a catcher, so I was in on every play. There’s just nothing like it … There’s no better feeling than throwing someone out or hitting a double or triple, or having a collision on the plate but holding onto the ball and them being out.”

After high school, Selby earned her accreditation to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at San Joaquin Delta College, and then that love of softball took her to Missouri on a scholarship. She was one of 20 students selected for Missouri Valley College’s brand-new nursing program. But at the end of her junior year, she was bit by a brown recluse spider and, after several days in the intensive care unit (ICU) in septic shock, she ended up returning home to recover.

She decided not to return to school and instead was hired as a CNA at California State Prison, Sacramento (CSP-Sacramento), and in May 2013 she was hired by the state to be on a team of 15 people to open the California Health Care Facility (CHC) in Stockton.

Selby believes that providing medical care to inmates comes with huge challenges not found in other medical environments. The first is how limited her contact actually is with the patients. Because the inmates could pose a threat to medical staff, there are officers assigned to watch them and the medical team isn’t directly interacting with the patient as much. In addition, the inmates will often lie about their condition in hopes of getting special treatment, so it can also be difficult to know when a patient is actually having a serious medical problem and when they’re lying or exaggerating. Selby credits her own experiences as a medical patient as helping her to differentiate between the two.

“I saved a guy’s life when I was at CHC in Stockton. It was this big guy and he was complaining of chest pain, and the nurse on the second watch said ‘just drink water and lay down.’” But something didn’t sit right with Selby and, after talking with the inmate some more, she asked the nurse to run an EKG, which revealed he was having a heart attack.

But this job is not for the faint of heart. Selby gets leered at and receives threats. Men have exposed themselves to her. She has even had an inmate stalk her.

“Ninety percent of the guys in my unit respect me,” she said. “But there were a couple that were bad.”

In 2016, Selby promoted to an administrative assistant at a Level 4 maximum-security prison in Folsom, which has her in the office much more and interacting with the inmates less. She hopes to return to school in the future and continue to move up the ladder to a position as a Staff Services Analyst.

Selby and her husband have two daughters, ages three and two years old, and she has just started coaching the Patriots, Galt’s Amateur Softball Association team for players 12 and younger.