Tell us about yourself andWatch the Waistline.
My name is Tamara Nelson, and we’re at my home, which is also Watch the Waistline. Watch the Waistline started off as me selling fruit bowls and fruit juice. Then it moved to me selling weight loss products, to now doing body contouring and wellness. That’s where we at right now with Watch the Waistline, beauty and wellness.
Do you support anyone who is or was incarcerated?
Yes, where do we start? I have a parrain, he’s been in Angola since I was young. That’s my nanny’s son. He knows I love him and I would do anything so that he don’t put an extra burden on my nanny. I go ahead anytime I get big breaks or when I have extra money, I would send it to him, just to take a burden off my nanny, because I know she’s on a fixed income and she’s barely making it. I try to help support what he needs so it can be a burden lifted off of her. I can’t remember him ever being out, I remember so much about him, but I don’t ever remember him actually being out, the 28th year now? Just me growing up and we go and see him.
Can you tell us about your first job?
My first job was at Family Dollar, but I only worked there for a couple days. I couldn’t get my social security card. And by the time I did, Family Dollar couldn’t hire me back on, so I wound up applying to a job at Walmart on Berhman on the Westbank. It was a contract job on a remodeling team. They had contracts all over the city where they was remodeling all of the different Walmart’s, and my job was basically to tear out all the shelves and help remodel. That led to me being hired later down the line in the deli. I could not stand working in the deli. I got transferred to the car maintenance section. I loved it there and would have been there for years, but I had ended up being pregnant and I had to leave because I was having complications with my pregnancy and I never returned.
How did you support yourselfand your family after you left Walmart?
I got unemployment then and I always had a side hustle, I was doing hair. I was braiding hair on the side. I had been doing that since I was maybe 12 years old. I learned how to do hair from my sister, one of my older sisters, Beedie. We all learned from Beedie. So I would pass the hair to help her move faster, so I watched her, what she was doing, and it made me like to learn. I was like, “Oh, she making good money, I can do this too,” so I started doing it young. Every day I was doing hair, anytime somebody wanted their hair done, I was doing it. I wasn’t letting no money walk away. I’m doing it. Meaning if I was getting off work at 10 o’clock at night, you could come at 10 at night.
What did you do next?
I started working at West Jefferson Hospital as a unit clerk. I loved the job and I’d still be there if I never got fired. You had to fill in doctor’s orders, make sure nurses knew the doctor’s orders that were put in, do vital signs, keep the area tidy, and communicate with the patient’s family. It was $9.50 an hour in 2015. I was doing hair then too, I had my son depending on me. I felt like I was done wrong by the hospital, the house supervisor fired me I think because she was having a bad day. I didn’t want to sign a write up, I didn’t think it was fair, and she got frustrated. So frustrated that she took my job away from me, not caring that I had to provide for my child. Like, you’re having that much of a bad day you ain’t care about my livelihood.
Can you tell us about the race and gender of that workplace?
The house supervisor was a white woman. Basically everybody I worked around, me and the other unit clerk were Black women, and everybody else in the department was white. Me and the other Black woman were the lowest in that department.
How did you wind up workingthrough a temp agency?
I didn’t get unemployment that time. I was doing hair and struggling. When times got really hard, I’d call the temp service. They’ll put me on a contract job, and I’ll work there for a couple weeks. Working for the temp service, I did little small contracts. I’d work for a People’s Health during renewal of benefits time, when that was over, I’d do different little gigs. They’ll send me to like Boomtown Casino, it was real small, I’d go in there for a day or two to do little things like working the buffet for that extra income.
How did you start working for the jail?
I saw my siblings who was working there, like coming up, making money. I was like, I can go get myself together working over there. JP [Jefferson Parish Correctional Center] was the highest paying job around. I ain’t have to do hair on the side, I ain’t have to struggle, none of that, I could work my job and be content. Started off at like $14-something. But it wasn’t the regular pay that paid me, it was the overtime pay. I think it would up being around $27 an hour for overtime.
What was working at the jail like?
I started off working the morning shift starting at 6am. Morning wasn’t working for me since I had to be out the house at least by 5 o’clock. But that wasn’t working because my kids depended on me to get them to school. I wound up switching to the evening shift, but that wasn’t working with scheduling either. So my last option was going to the overnight shift. Overnight shift was good until they started forcing me to do overtime every day. That’s when we started having problems because I’m working overnight, then being forced to work until 2 in the afternoon after being there since 10 o’clock the night before. It was just hard being away from my kids that long. I was being paid time-and-a-half, but the pay wasn’t the issue, it was that they’ll tell you like 15 minutes before you bout to get off, “You’re number one on the overtime list.” So you know you had to stay, so it was like, “Who can I call first thing in the morning to see can-you-do-this, can-you-do-that for my kids.” It’s impossible. And the schedule is, you work eight days, you’re off two, then you work seven days, and you’re off four days. Working eight days straight with forced overtime, because they’re always short at Jefferson Parish, I could not be away from my kids like that. I’m doing my shift, I’m doing what I signed up for, I even signed up for forced overtime, but who said forced overtime was going to be every day.
Did you feel like you would be punished if you couldn’t do overtime?
Yes, the punishment was that you would get wrote up, [what they called] a “white paper.”
What made you leave working for the jail?
I did those double shifts without complaining for a year. After doing it all year, my body started breaking down. I started getting exhausted, frustrated. I just couldn’t do it anymore. What made me leave JP was that one day I was working, and my baby was sick. My sister called me, it was maybe 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, she was like, “something not right with your daughter. She acting weird, and I think she having a bad reaction to the medicine.” I said, “Alright I’m on my way.” I hung up the phone, I called my supervisor. I was like, “I need to leave, some thing is not right with my baby.” They told me that, “Well you have to wait, let me see if we can get somebody to cover your shift. You’re gonna have to write a whitepaper when you come back.” So I left and when I came back, I knew I was under punishment. They would force me on the hardest pods inside the jail as punishment, I could feel the punishment. All the staff knew which were the hardest pods, if they were trying to punish you, they would give you those pods. I was like, it’s time for me to go. It’s really time for me to go.
Can you tell us about the race and gender of the staff?
Inside the jail they have a lot of Black supervisors. Like the majority of the supervisors working inside the jail was Black. But when it go to higher ranks, the higher ranks were more white. We felt like it was punishment working inside the jail, everybody wanted to be “post” – a post-deputy outside the jail – but you ain’t getting out the jail unless, if you didn’t know somebody, and I don’t want to say, but if you wasn’t a certain color.
You can say.
If you wasn’t white, you wasn’t getting to the road, you wasn’t getting out that jail to different departments. You was staying right there in the jails. Majority of the Black staff worked the jail, a mixture of Black women and males.
Who decided if you could leave the jail for another department or not?
The higher ranks decided. None of our direct supervisors, but it was higher ranks like the captains, the chief, the major. You have to go through those people to get moved to different departments you wanted to get moved to, or you get moved to the streets. We all knew that if you ain’t nobody, you had to be “special” to get moved out to better departments.
What was the thing you liked best and what was the thing you liked least about being a CO?
What I liked most was being able to make a difference. When you sit on the pods every day, and the inmates tell you different stories… you was still able to respect them still as being humans, and not as, “Oh you did something, Imma treat you this way.” What I hate worst at working at JP was knowing that because the color of my skin and who I was, I wasn’t ever gone move up. So much stuff happened that it messed with my state, my well-being. Me and my sister, we worked at JP together. When her supervisor got into it with her, I would get placed in the hardest pods. I asked to be moved to a different position, to a different department. Everybody wants to be medical deputies, nobody wants to sit on the pods. Because sitting down in the chair, you can’t have your phones, you can’t have your books, you can’t have nothing, that’s playing with your mental state, sitting down for 16hours a day. Eight days in a row, 16-hour shifts, just looking at inmates, and just be miserable.
Could you tell us a little bit more about what was going through your mind when you decided to apply to JP?
When I went over there and I took that big move to JP, I thought it was the best move I could make, and I still think it was a good move that I made. I’m not gonna say it was a bad move, it’s just like, I felt like I should have started elsewhere before coming to JP. I should have gotten certification and stuff. I felt like if I would have talked more with one of my sisters who was already working there, and talked to her for the reason why she left, I would have understood everything before I got there. She was there for 14 years and she was never able to leave out the jail[department]. I know she is a very hard worker and she never got moved up, I would already know what time of day it was. Working in the jail, you are at the bottom, you feel like the bottom. For Hurricane Ida, I was working for JP, and we were forced to stay in town, we couldn’t leave so we could work the jail. We ain’t have power at home. The parish had ice and water, everything set up in one of the little huts to distribute. So I went to go get some ice for me and my family. They had basically everything set up, water set up, Gatorade, they had pumps for gasoline. But it wasn’t for the CO’s. And at the hut they asked what department, and I said, “I’m a CO,” and they said, “That’s not for y’all, put it back.” I’m thinking we’re all one, we all work for JP. It was like Katrina, left in the dark, made me feel some type of way. That was another reason why I decided to leave JP.
How did COVID impact you while you were working for the jail?
I kept catching COVID in the jailhouse. That played a major role in me leaving too. I caught COVID three times working in that jail house. It wasn’t good on my mental state or health. I keep getting sick, it was just time to go. The first time I got COVID, I got paid for it. The second time, they wasn’t paying anybody if you got sick. It was hard. The third time, having to be out of work all that time and not get paid. So much of the stuff that done happened at JP too, it played with my mental well-being. I kept getting sick.
What made you leave working for the jail?
Working at JP impacted my kids a lot. I’m away from home. All that time, I started seeing different changes in my son’s behavior. He told me one day, “Mama, when you gonna quit JP? I’m tired of you working like that, you always at work, at work, at work, I’m tired of you working like that.” So you know, that did something to me. It played a part in my mental state. I wanted to cry when my child told me that. It was just time.
How did you start Watch the Waistline?
The vending machines got all my money at JP. I used to walk around all day eating M&M’s, Snickers, and a Coke, just to keep me awake. I was tired and I needed the sugar rush to keep me going. I started seeing myself getting so much out of shape. I started fruit and juice, and started losing weight. People at work noticed, asked me what I was doing. I had graduated from beauty school back in 2013. And I started Watch the Waistline in 2019. I am the CEO, Tamara Nelson. I started with seven fruit juices and fruits. It started from there to me selling waist trainers and different shapers to contour the body. Like we all know you can’t lose weight overnight, so waist trainers are to give people that confidence back in their waistlines. I started offering shapers to give that confidence back. I just got certified as a medical assistant, so I can start offering more services like body contouring. My goal at the middle of this year is to have Watch the Waistline come out of the house and into its own space.
What do you love most about your hustle?
What I love most about my hustle is that I’m able to be a full-time mom with my kids. I’m able to set my own schedule. I’m able to go learn more, do more, and gain more for my business. I just love the freedom.