Her blonde hair laid pressed against her navy-blue U.S. Marshal polo. As she leaned back in her chair to sip her grande hot chocolate with no whipped cream from Starbucks, I couldn’t help but notice how relaxed she was. Papers, blueprints, and handcuffs cluttered her desk but the mess didn’t bother her.
If you were to see Amanda Lyons in the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon inspecting cantaloupes, you would never guess her line of work. You would never know that she is a deputy U.S. Marshal of 15 years, recently promoted to a judicial security inspector (JSI).
While she may seem calm and sweet in public, she plays a different ball game the second she steps into the Matthew J. Perry courthouse. For the past 11 years she has been the only female deputy in the Columbia U.S. Marshal office. For the past 11 years she has had to fight to gain respect and accreditation amongst her male colleagues.
In 1789 the United States Marshals Service was founded. One hundred and sixty years later, in 1949, the department welcomed its first female deputy, Katherine Battle Gordy. Gordy served as a deputy U.S. Marshal for over 16 years and paved the way for women after her.
The majority of men in law enforcement can appreciate the strength that is required for females who embark on such a career. Men realize that the job is hard and being a female makes it even more difficult. “Law enforcement has always been male dominated, the physical part and aggressive part tends to make it that way,” said Jackson Pernell, deputy U.S. Marshal and a member of law enforcement officer for 26 years. “An aggressive posture is needed in this career and sometimes the physical requirements tend to make it more male dominated. Even today there are still fewer women than men.
From humble beginnings in North Carolina, Lyons always knew she wanted to make a difference. While at Western Carolina University (WCU) she studied criminal justice with a minor in industrial technology. As an undergraduate student Lyons was a member of the sorority Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA). Though her peers mocked her for being a member, Lyons credits her sorority for giving her the confidence she has today to work in a male-dominated field. “It gave me a voice and confidence to speak up when things need to be said,” said Lyons.
After working for three years as a community service coordinator for the state of North Carolina, Lyons went back to WCU to get her master’s in public affairs with specialization in management and criminal justice. With the end goal being a federal government job, Lyons knew a master’s degree would propel her and make her a more marketable candidate.
Upon graduation she applied to take the Department of Treasury test, the first step in the application process for the U.S. Marshals. After passing the test she was then sent to Atlanta for physical fitness tests and interviews. As Lyons looked around she realized that she was embarking on a journey that would not be easy. “There were 700 applicants for 125 positions, I was one of 80 females in the 700—you talk about intimidation,” said Lyons. “I was trying to work in one of the biggest boys clubs to exist.”
Lyons’ quick wit, biting personality, and intelligence landed her a job as a deputy for the U.S. Marshals. Out of 700 applicants, she was chosen to wear the shield, an accomplishment she remains proud of. Her job has taken her to Washington and New York City, allowed her to meet countless politicians, and even landed her in a box seat with a U.S. Supreme Court Justice at the 2018 Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees playoff game.
Though she has had incredible experiences, she has had to fight for each one. “I have to work harder and do everything better than men just to prove myself,” said Lyons. “In 2019 over 3,500 people work for the U.S. Marshals, but less than 13 percent are women.”
Every day is a constant reminder that she must excel in all things to garner respect from her male counterparts. With each new day comes a new challenge, whether it’s dealing with an unruly inmate or a pompous defense attorney. Each time she goes into the cellblock male inmates harass her. Not only does she have to worry about what bodily fluids they may sling at her, she has to ensure they don’t find out her name. “Inmates will challenge females and cat call—and if they get names they think it creates a personal level between us, almost like a relationship,” said Lyons.
Each of her colleagues are reminded daily that not only is Lyons smarter, but she is tougher than all of them. “She is meticulous and she’s attentive to detail; she’s very specific with what she does,” said Desrick Rhodes, an administrative officer with the U.S. Marshals. “She does an excellent job in everything she does and it makes her stand out because she is ambitious. She makes things happen.” Rhodes has worked with Lyons for over two years now and has gotten to witness first-hand the struggles she endures for the job.
While the mental aspect of the job is taxing, Lyons said that there is a serious physical aspect. But as a runner of 15 marathons, a physical challenge isn’t something she shies away from. She has gotten into physical altercations with inmates before. During her time in D.C. she fell down a flight of stairs dealing with a difficult juvenile. “This 17-year-old girl had murdered her boyfriend and then wanted to fight me, so we flew down an entire flight of stairs,” said Lyons. “The next day I was covered in so many bruises I looked like a Picasso painting, but hey I mean that is part of the job.”
Her stories are endless, each one full of shocking twists and turns. In her time with the U.S. Marshals she has heard just about everything imaginable. Her laugh bounced off the walls as she told countless stories about the job. Though her experiences have created a tough personality, she is still a human. A human who loves her dog, her family, and baking. A human who loves her job and realizes that though she is a woman, she can do the job just as well as a man.
“Always remember, there are no pink and blue badges,” said Lyons.