When Kristi DeMarks stares blankly at her closet with that all-too-familiar predicament of not knowing what to wear, it’s not an issue of preference. DeMarks isn’t waiting for inspiration to strike or experiencing fatigue over her wardrobe. It’s just genuinely difficult to prepare her for her day. “My regular day is never a regular day,” says the Los Angeles-based parole officer. Her job requires her to make surprise house calls to parolees, doing routine check ins that could consist of a brief conversation or a drug test, but could also escalate to violence without warning. “Anything can happen in the field.”
On any given day, DeMarks could be called into court before ringing doorbells in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. This simultaneously requires that she looks professionally presentable in clothing loose enough to conceal her weapon and bullet proof vest, form fitting enough to perform seamlessly in possible fisticuffs, all the while avoiding anything that could read as cute, lest she receive “unwanted attention” from her subjects.
That’s before she even gets to work. Women in law enforcement face their fair shake of challenges in a day. “It’s considered a man’s career. They already have a view of a female,” she says of the assumption that she and her few female colleagues are somehow less capable of protecting their male partners in the line of fire. “You have to work 10 times harder to be an equal.” Her unrelenting effort to leave no room for error or doubt reverberates through the way she fills out paperwork to the commitment she gives to training.
DeMarks is a dynamo. When her job in Ventura County was threatened by departmental downsize in response to proposition AB109, which dealt with the overcrowding of prisons, rather than risk losing work and leaving her family without its primary source of income, DeMarks, then a relatively new mother of a two-year-old daughter, shifted gears applying for a job as a detective for the Fraud Division of the Department of Insurance. She received a contingent offer: she would get the job if and when she completed the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Academy, a marine-based boot camp designed to prepare its participants to maintain composure in the most trying situations. “They tear you down completely—they want to know if you’re going to break,” says DeMarks of the 5 month-long training.
Throughout the 14 hour days of running, studying, and drill work, smiling is not allowed, shoes must be shined, and uniforms must be pressed. “You’re at attention all the time. You’re not allowed to have lunch. You have to sneak food,” she says, recalling the exhaustive experience. And though she can chalk it up to necessary preparation for the job— “you [might] have to fight at your weakest moments, function on no sleep and no food”—DeMarks also remembers the training as some of the most harrowing weeks of her life. There were times she didn’t think she would make it. Encouraging words from friends helped, but she says the strength to get through came by looking at her daughter. “I would see her little face and say [to myself], ‘You have to do it!’
“Once I get something on my mind, I do what it takes to get there (within reason).” This is the logic that drove her from her high school basketball team onto a sports scholarship at Cal State San Bernadino, where she got a BA in psychology (later, she’d get a masters in science). It’s the foundation that pushed her from probation officer to parole officer, detective, and back to parole when she saw more opportunity for growth. Now she has her sights set on the Parole Apprehension Team, for which she is in the midst of “auditioning” for. “The team hasn’t had a female since 2005. That’s a huge barrier I hope I’m able to break.” The breakneck position will require her to arrest parolees who have evaded their requirements—meaning her surprise visits are more unwelcome than ever, and thus, more dangerous. And if the self-proclaimed “adrenaline junky” admittedly prays before leaving the house to make it home safely, no matter how minute or dramatic her day is, “If it means one less criminal off the street, or helping a parolee so that maybe they won’t commit a crime in the future or be respectful to police officers—I think that’s the most positive thing I could do right now,” she says, citing the cut-with-a-knife tension that’s arisen in headlines and the current political climate.
DeMarks has to believe that her work is for a greater good. There’s no room for personal fear in her job. “You don’t know how strong you’re going to be until being strong is all you can do,” she says. “There’s not a whole lot that can be thrown at me that I can’t take. I know where to dig deep to survive.” She’s referring to her children, now ages 6 and 3, who inspire her to meet her daily goal of being a good mom. “Every day make sure that I raise them the right way, that I’m there for them every step of the way,” she says. Admitting that “It’s a struggle.” Because, although she will tell you that home is the place where she can catch her breath, behind that door are two curious minds, a house to clean, laundry to do, meals to cook, lunches to prepare, groceries to buy, and all of the seemingly never ending responsibilities that go along with being a working mom. “My plate is definitely full. I don’t know how I do it every day.”
To hit refresh, she can be found at the gym and meets friends for Bible study weekly. “I try to learn new things all the time, to train in my job, spiritually, personally, physically. I just try to keep growing as a person.” She’s making progress in spades. With so much going on it’s easy, even necessary, to put on blinders and look forward. But, taking a rare moment to reflect, DeMarks admits, however hard it is for her to say, that she’s proud of what she’s done. “Looking back on everything, I just think, wow, I did do that.”