Program Director Tim Thomas Brings Unique Life Experience to the Classroom
Tim Thomas knows what it feels like to be on the right side—and the wrong side—of the law.
Thomas, program director of the Criminal Justice: Corrections program at Carrington College’s Stockton campus, dreamed of a career in law enforcement and criminal justice since he was 14 years old. That’s when he became a police cadet with the San Leandro police department. He went on to work as a parole assistant for the Stockton parole department while playing college basketball at California State University-Stanislaus, where he earned his B.A. in Criminal Justice.
But while he was working as a loss prevention manager for a major retail chain in 2007, Thomas’ life took a bizarre twist.
He had applied for a position as a police officer with a Central Valley college school district and was invited to a job interview. Little did Thomas know that a pre-employment background check revealed he was a suspect in a recent area bank robbery. Police were notified that Thomas was scheduled for an interview, and they interrupted the interview, locked the doors, and questioned him. He was arrested and jailed while his home was searched.
“It was an abusive, dehumanizing experience,” Thomas recalls. “Even though I knew they had the wrong guy, the experience rocked my world. I was called vile names and treated like a convicted criminal instead of a suspect. I was 26 years old, and in a heartbeat, my world was turned upside down. I was the suspect in a crime I knew nothing about. I provided DNA samples and was eventually cleared after several months, but that experience shook my faith and taught me how easily the pursuit of justice can become an injustice.”
After that incident—which ended with Thomas receiving a formal apology from the city’s police chief—he worked as a police officer for ten years, during which time he also earned his master’s in Criminology from American Public University. He was then hired as the security manager for Levy, the food concessionaire at Oracle Arena, home of Golden State Warriors basketball team. In 2018, he became a Criminal Justice adjunct instructor at Institute of Technology-Modesto. Last year, he joined Carrington’s Stockton faculty as Criminal Justice: Corrections program director and instructor.
Thomas says that while his journey hasn’t always been easy, it helped forge the motivational leadership style he practices today.
“I believe in creating a supportive environment for our students,” says Thomas. “I know from experience that teachers can have a life-altering impact in the lives of their students. Teachers saved me. I grew up in Oakland in a neighborhood where success stories are far too rare, but I was lucky to have teachers who believed in me long before I believed in myself.”
Thomas freely admits he wasn’t a great student.
“I was a kid from a troubled home who always doubted himself,” he remembers. ”I went to an elementary school where we didn’t learn a lot because the teachers were struggling just to maintain control of the classroom. In that environment, it’s impossible to learn, and I paid a price. Years later, I took the written part of the peace officers test 40 times before I passed.”
Thomas, the father of four, says his own struggles have provided a unique perspective when it comes to attracting students to his program—and encouraging them once they’ve enrolled.
“I know life isn’t easy, and there are those life-defining moments where we can either choose the right path or the wrong one,” Thomas says. “I’ve also coached basketball at three high schools. I’ve seen students succeed, and I’ve seen others stumble. I also lost my 32-year-old brother last year to drugs. I know how easy it can be for young people to lose their drive and direction, so it feels like an honor to be able to help students chase their dreams and achieve them. My motto is ‘Never Quit’, and every day I remind my students to never give up.”
As Criminal Justice: Corrections program director, Thomas sees an opportunity to cultivate future law enforcement and correctional officers who believe that all people—even those charged or convicted of a crime—deserve basic human respect.
“I’ve learned from firsthand experience that humiliating people and treating them with disrespect accomplishes nothing positive,” he says. “I still believe that law enforcement can be a noble profession, and having the chance to motivate and guide students who share in that belief is a wonderful full-circle moment in my life.”