When Tanya Venable gets up each morning, she has one main goal for the day ahead: to do everything she can with what she has for everyone who needs it.
“I just believe that you have to work hard for anything, not just in work but in life,” she said. “You have to do your very best.”
Venable is a detention counselor at CoreCivic's Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico, a medium-security facility that primarily serves individuals awaiting trial and detainees under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She has also been named CoreCivic's 2023 Employee of the Year.
Venable oversees daily operations in three housing units at Cibola, where she manages everything from residents' living spaces and dorms to food preparation in the kitchens. To say Venable deals with many moving parts and pieces each day is an understatement.
“You just have to be fair, firm and consistent, and go in every day knowing what you’re walking into,” she shared.
So, before she goes into work, she sends up a quick prayer for guidance and plunges straight into whatever needs to be done the moment she arrives.
“If I see something, I take care of it,” she said.
The key is to be alert to people’s needs and to stop and listen to requests, no matter how busy things are in a given moment.
“I make it a point to take my time when I go into a housing pod. You have more time to really focus on each person in your unit,” she said. “You notice more, you’re able to talk about that more. I feel like you’re able to solve problems a lot faster that way.”
Part of Venable's noteworthy contributions this year include improving processes and building in more structure and accountability for the residents at Cibola. When Mark Foreman became Cibola’s new warden in September 2022, he set out to improve living conditions; Venable's work has been aimed at this bigger vision for the facility.
Venable and those who work alongside her have added fresh coats of paint to walls, and deep cleaned as needed. Foreman, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, conducts weekly inspections himself to make sure living standards are being upheld properly.
“It makes the residents feel safer because there’s more structure,” Venable said. “Now it’s just the way the facility runs, and it’s helped everybody.”
But Venable shared that she didn’t have any idea her work had been noticed to the extent that it had. Being named CoreCivic's 2023 Employee of the Year “never even crossed my mind," she said.
If a promotion were imminent, Venable is taking a measured approach to her career trajectory.
“For right now, I’m still learning. I’ve been a counselor for a year and a half now. I want to learn this job really well, and then maybe move up a little and learn that job really well," she said.