Free since January 2013
While incarcerated, Tammy graduated from Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Writing program, where participants are invited to write and share in safe community the story of what they believe put them on a path to prison.
Will you share a little about your life before you went to prison?
I came from a great family. My parents have been married for over 54 years, and, growing up, our house was always filled with love. The real problems began later in my life.
One of the first jobs I had while going to college was an accounts receivable clerk. We went through an internal audit and found out the company accountant had been embezzling money. There were no repercussions for her actions and because I was responsible for rebuilding the company books, I figured out how she did it. This would have an impact on me.
Many years later, when my husband died, I was faced with foreclosure on my home while trying to raise two young children. I remembered what I had learned as an accounts receivable clerk, and this was the beginning of my life of embezzling to solve my problems. I lived for years with this secret. I worried every day: Is this the day I’m going to get caught? When we’d go on family vacations, we could never go for more than a week. I couldn’t let anyone else run payroll, or they’d find out. Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year, but every Christmas after the kids opened their gifts, I would get depressed, wondering if that was my last Christmas at home.
It was not a life. The fear and anxiety became so overwhelming I began to drink just to feel normal. Eventually, I became an alcoholic.
Then it happened: My employer found out. It took over two and a half years after I was caught for them to sentence me. While awaiting sentencing, my drinking escalated. I drank every day. I was so afraid of my future, and the fear of the unknown controlled my life. In many ways, I was already imprisoned. During this time, I got three DWIs. In March of 2008, I was sentenced to 14 years.
In our Talk to Me program, you learned to write and share your story. How has learning to share your story — to tell your truth — affected your relationships with your children?
My relationships with my kids were strained when I went to prison. My son was in college, and my daughter was in high school. I wrote to them every Sunday whether I heard from them or not. In my letters, I complained about everything in prison. I would cry while writing them and tell them how much I wanted to come home. I would apologize for all of this in every letter. I spent so much time wanting to go home and feeling the victim. I didn’t want to accept the situation. I felt once I accepted it, it would be real. I’d be this felon in prison. It took me almost a year to wrap my brain around the fact that I was going to be there for a long time.
Once I was able to accept the situation as it was, I began to learn about myself and who I truly was. I was able to get into the Talk to Me class with Truth Be Told, and they helped me to find my truth by looking at my life and the things that had led to my addiction to money. I also learned that my alcoholism was a symptom of something much deeper.
From then on, I began to accept my situation, and my life behind bars began to change. My letters to my kids became positive. I would tell them of the things I was learning.
I ended up spending four and a half years in prison. In January 2013, I was released with six years of probation and 9 ½ years of parole ahead of me.
Eight months after my release, I accepted my five-year chip from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and my daughter said she wanted to introduce me. When she came to the meeting, she brought every letter I had written to her while I was in prison, and she used them as part of her introduction. She talked about how she relied on those letters and knew every week there’d be another letter. I never knew how much my letters meant to her until then. She talked about how she relied on those letters and knew every week there’d be another letter. I never knew how much my letters meant to her until then.
Unfortunately, my son was in the middle of his addiction when I got out of prison. As much as I wanted to be around him, I couldn’t if he was drunk or had any drugs or alcohol on him. I prayed for him every day and texted him once a week to make sure he was OK and alive.
Meanwhile, my daughter and I went to a family reunion on her father’s side of the family. On the drive out there, she opened up and shared some of her story with me, that she had been addicted to pain pills for many years but had quit a few months before and was still going through withdrawals. So, there you had it: Both my kids had fallen into addiction like I had.
But then one day, my son came to my door and said he was ready for a change. I told him he could stay with me for three weeks, but, after that, he was out even if it meant he was homeless. To my surprise, he stayed sober and found a place to live within the timeframe I gave him.
I am so proud to say both my kids have been clean and sober for over three years now. On Sept. 28, I will celebrate 12 years of sobriety. When my son accepted his first AA chip, I got to introduce him at the meeting. When he accepted it, he said his biggest influence was me, his mom, and the way I had overcome everything I had been through.
You’ve returned to prison voluntarily a couple of times to speak to Truth Be Told program participants since you completed your sentence. Tell us about those experiences. Why did you want to go back inside?
Part of my sobriety is to give back. I love to encourage the ladies who are still behind bars. Two years after I walked out of prison, I was able to go back to my unit and share what I had done with my life since being released. This was very surreal. I saw some of the officers I knew, and a few of my friends were still in. Among my peers, I shared some of my story. I told them to get involved with anything that helps you get to know the person you really are.
The first time I went back inside, my mom came with me. This was so special because it was the first time she’d heard my story, and she was able to see what led me to commit my crime. She told me from that time on, she realized I was not the same person I had been and I had truly changed.
The second time I went back to the unit, I was able to bring my son. He got to meet some of the ladies who volunteer with Truth Be Told and who were such a part of my success. I also received my quilt on that trip.
[Editor’s note: Program graduates who remain involved with Truth Be Told post-release receive a handmade quilt on their three-year anniversary of freedom. The Quilt Project was started by co-founder Carol Waid’s parents, Peggy and Doyle Chandler, who have made more than 70 quilts over the years.]
In what ways has your incarceration continued to affect your life today?
Things aren’t always easy. I got off probation last year, but I’m still on parole, and I will be for another two years. A few years ago, I was going to the Celebrate Recovery Summit in California with my church. Probation wouldn’t give me a travel permit, even with a letter from my pastor. I talked to my attorney, and, fortunately, he was able to get the permit for me, but I had to wear an ankle monitor for the time I was gone.
I didn’t know if I could do this. We were going to California, and I’d be wearing shorts. One of my concerns was that I would embarrass the leaders of my church, but they assured me they wouldn’t be. It was so funny, because when we met up at the airport, the campus pastor had put an Apple Watch around his ankle as a symbol of his solidarity! From then on, I held my head up and walked through it.
Describe your life today.
I came out of prison with nothing, but slowly I have been able to rebuild, and I am so proud of what I have.
I live in a small apartment, and I would like to buy a home eventually. I’m in leadership with Celebrate Recovery at my church, and I have been blessed to go to the annual summit in California twice and once in Nashville. I’m also very involved in AA. For 18 months, I served as secretary on the Group Conscience Committee, which keeps your AA group healthy and moving forward. I try to go to AA and Celebrate Recovery meetings at least once a week.
Today, I’m living my purpose. I share my story at Celebrate Recovery meetings all over the city. Truth Be Told taught me how to write my story and get up in front of people and share. My story is my truth. I’m not the same person I was when I walked into prison. I had a “good life” prior to going in. On the outside, I looked no different than you. But on the inside, my secrets almost killed me.
I love to see people’s faces when they realize I’ve been to prison. Once I share that I’ve been to prison, people’s walls come down. An example of this is when I shared my story with my first employer after leaving prison. I went to work for a Christian nonprofit, and I told them about my past. After a few years there, I encouraged them to hire more people like me, and they did. They became a second chance employer. That is one of my best accomplishments.
Today, I work in marketing for a wonderful company, and I have been with them for over three years. They are also a second chance employer. I love my job, and I feel so appreciated for what I do.
Also, the relationships I have with my kids today are remarkable. We are so close, and they know there is nothing they can’t share with me. I could never have imagined things would be this good.
Of course, I wish I had never taken the money in the first place, but I’d never change my past. I was given an opportunity to look at my life and have a second chance to make it everything I want it to be. And it can be anything I want it to be.
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