When Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden took office in December as the county’s first black sheriff, it wasn’t long before the office had another “first” among its ranks. After a promotion, Telisa White became the first chief of detention.
Hired in 1994, the Charlotte native is celebrating her 25th anniversary as a member of the sheriff’s office and says she’s “still going.”
In her role, White oversees all jails in Mecklenburg County and supervises the associated staff. She’s worked her way up through the ranks and made history at several points, including the first detention captain and detention major. White said that her history-making progress is about changing a culture and being a role model for others.
I spoke to Chief White about her career, her role in strengthening community relations and what’s it like when she clocks out.
So, you’re a Charlotte native. Where’d you go to high school?
I graduated from West Mecklenburg High School in 1986.
Talk about your path into law enforcement.
Well, I really had no desire to go into law enforcement. I’ve always been in a working environment where I was able to help others. My passion was trying to get a job with the Department of Social Services, but that didn’t work out.
Coming here [to the sheriff’s office], my plan was to stay six months. But, when I looked at everything within the agency, and how I could grow, I decided to stay.
From your perspective as a black woman and first chief of detention, what does your representation mean?
I look at it as paving the way. When I started back in 1994, and I saw all the men that were in leadership roles within the agency, I said, “You know, at some point, we’ve got to change this. This is not a good look. But how do we change it?”
By putting in for different positions and having an opportunity to work throughout the agency — of course, working twice as hard as the males — it just led me to keep pushing.
Now, I can look back and say what I did is so that everyone who’s here that doesn’t have the time in that I have — especially females, black females — can say “we can make it. She made it and she’s still here, so I can make it.”
What does it mean for the community to see your role as trying to strengthen that relationship and trust with law enforcement?
I think is very important, and I have to give credit and a lot of respect to Sheriff Garry McFadden. With him coming in, it has really put an impact on me and my feelings. When a community sees that you have people of color who’s behind them 110 percent, they say “I have someone who cares and someone who wants to listen.”
The sheriff’s office has made a tremendous step. We’re out in the communities more. We’re out doing forums and educating. And not just the adults, we’re educating the youth because I think that’s where we need to start first.
It’s very important for someone to see my face out in the community — educating them on what we need to do and what we don’t need to do — so that they won’t end up inside these detention facilities.
Have you had any mentors who have helped steer you to where you are now?
Retired Chief Deputy Felicia McAdoo — she was here for 30 years and retired in December of 2016 — she was definitely my mentor here.
I’ve never seen anybody with such a great tremendous work ethic. I learned so much from her. She made sure that I received adequate information and all the tools necessary when I worked up under her supervision. I’ve had males to do the same, but Chief McAdoo was definitely key to my success.
What’s one piece of advice from her that that stuck with you?
“Never give up.” I’ll never forget that.
When you clock out, what does it look like for you?
Well, I have to say this, I never clock out. I’m on duty 24/7, and it doesn’t bother me because I love it.
But when I’m not working, I’m a family person. I’m married, and I have one son. My husband is a firefighter for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fire Department. This career, it keeps you going all the time. But, I have to take time away from the job to let my family know that I’m there for them as well.
Katrina Louis is managing editor of qcitymetro.com who can always find something to do in Charlotte. She’s an offline hustler (and has the shirt to prove it) but when online, find her on Instagram and Twitter.