LOS LUNASThe uniforms caught her eye at first, but ultimately, Rosarita Jaramillo decided to pursue a career in corrections due to her desire to succeed and to show her two children what could be accomplished. 

After working as the manager of a Pizza Hut in Santa Rosa for seven years, Jaramillo wanted something different. When the word started getting around about a prison being built in the small city in eastern New Mexico, she knew this was her chance. 

“It was going to be an opportunity that was kind of like law enforcement. I said, ‘Maybe I’ll give that a shot,’” Jaramillo recalls. 

When the prison began taking applications, she put hers in and was hired as the assistant to the warden in 1999 at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility. That only lasted three months. 

“I knew what I wanted to do. I saw everybody walking around in their uniforms, and a lot of them were female,” she said. “I said, ‘I can do that. I want to be a boss.’ There were female lieutenants at the time and that’s what motivated me.” 

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
In 2019, Major Rosarita Jaramillo became the first female major in the New Mexico Corrections Department. She works at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas, where she was recently named interim deputy warden.

Now a Los Lunas resident and working at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility, Jaramillo has risen through the ranks and is the first female major in the state with the New Mexico Corrections Department. She was also the first female captain at CNMCF.  

A single mother of two, Jaramillo pushed herself to succeed and become a role model for her children, with her son, Christopher Aragon, following in her career footsteps. Aragon is a lieutenant at Central and is in charge of the transport unit. 

During her time at the Guadalupe County facility, Jaramillo was promoted in 2001 to disciplinary officer, handling all the inmate misconduct reports for the facility. A year later, she moved up to sergeant and was promoted to the Security Threat Intelligence Unit lieutenant in 2003. 

Submitted photo
While at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa, Rosarita Jaramillo, second from right, was a lieutenant with the Security Threat Intelligence Unit.

“The STIU team is one of the elite teams. Every probation and parole officer wants to be on STIU,” she said. “It’s a very, very selective team.” 

The STIU is responsible for the identification, monitoring and management of prison and street gang members incarcerated in New Mexico’s prison system, and those who are on parole and/or probation status. 

While she was doing all that, a long-time coworker took a job as the chief of police in Fort Sumner and asked if she would like to be a patrol officer for him. So for a year, from 2005 to 2006, Jaramillo worked 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the prison in Santa Rosa, then from 6 p.m. to midnight as a police officer in Fort Sumner — a 45 minute drive. She promises, with a chuckle, no traffic laws were broken during her commute between the two jobs. 

“I got about four hours of sleep a night, but I did it,” she said. “I was so determined. I just wanted to succeed. I had my two kids and I wanted them to see if I could do it, they could do it.” 

Aragon, who was about 13 at the time, said seeing his mother “work her butt off for us” was kind of par for the course. 

“That’s all I’d seen,” Aragon said. 

When asked if he and his sister worried about their mother, he immediately answers, “Of course. We always expected the phone call when she was at work.” 

It was rough, Jaramillo said, but only for a little bit. 

“I would always tell myself someday I’m gonna get a job where I only have to work one job,” she said with a laugh. “Because I’m going to make enough money to work that one job.” 

Submitted photo
For a year, from 2005 to 2006, Rosarita Jaramillo pulled double duty as a corrections officer at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa and a patrol officer in nearby Fort Sumner.

That one job came along in 2006, when her brother encouraged her to transition to working for the state at Central, a job that offered good benefits like annual leave and sick days. 

Jaramillo made the transition to CNMCF as a lieutenant in 2006. Again running on little sleep and hard work, she went to school and earned her associate degree in criminal justice. In 2014, she was promoted to captain — the first female captain at Central. 

“When I first got here, it was the good ol’ boy’s system. The girls would not get promoted,” she said. “So I just kept pushing and pushing. Eventually, somebody noticed me.” 

Jaramillo kept pushing and in 2019, put in for major and was named the first female major in the state corrections department. 

“I was so excited because that was a big goal of mine,” she said.  

As the major, Jaramillo oversees all the security for the facility as well as administration. 

“Whatever they need — medical units, transportation unit, everything,” she said. 

In March, she was able to add one more layer of leadership to her resume — Jaramillo was named interim deputy warden for the facility, second in command only to Warden Jessica Vigil-Richards. 

“I help her handle this entire facility,” Jaramillo said. “She just says, ‘Major, go handle this.’ So it gets handled.” 

Vigil-Richards said Jaramillo is dedicated and loyal. 

“She’s just that person that takes initiative. She’s your go-to person to get things done,” Vigil-Richards said. “She’s very strong willed, ambitions, and she’s been like that since day one, even when we were peers working together in Santa Rosa.” 

Both Jaramillo and Vigil-Richards started their careers in corrections as administrative assistants at the Guadalupe facility. 

Submitted photo
In 2007, then Lt. Rosarita Jaramillo, third from left in the back row, was one of the few women on the CERT — correctional emergency response team — at Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas. A CERT team is a team of specially trained prison officers that respond to disturbances, riots, cell extractions, mass searches and other incidents inside a prison that typically involves uncooperative or violent inmates.

Jaramillo encourages other women to go into corrections all the time, talking to women working the drive-thru at fast food restaurants, taking applications to them, and talking to them about what’s it’s like to be the chief of security at the prison when she’s out shopping in her uniform. 

“I do it all the time. I tell them to come work with me and there have been quite a few who have,” she said. “We have a lot of female sergeants here, a lot of female lieutenants and captains. I tell them, ‘If I could do it, you can do it.’” 

Jaramillo is one of the 169 female corrections officers in the state of New Mexico out of a total 886. Out of the 18 wardens and deputy wardens in the state, eight — including Jaramillo — are female and 11 are male. 

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Major Rosarita Jaramillo, right, is the first female major in the New Mexico Corrections Department. She started her career in Guadalupe County and now works at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas with her son, Lt. Christopher Aragon, left.

As a woman who doesn’t like the term “Type A,” Jaramillo said corrections is a good environment for strong women. 

“This is an environment where as strong women, we work to build each other up. The men as well. They build us up and we build them up,” she said.  

Growing up, Aragon thought about joining the New Mexico State Police, but after coming to Central he decided to make corrections a career. He watched his mother work hard to provide for their family and he hopes to do the same thing for his two daughters. 

“I hope they see the same thing I see in her — that they’re inspired to do anything they want,” Aragon said. “They can achieve anything they want. My mom’s a go-getter, so I want them to be go-getters. She’s a firecracker.” 

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.