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The Blossoming Journey of Tammy: From Silence to Soil

January 24, 2024

By Melissa Johnson Washington Corrections Center for Women
An incarcerated individual working in the garden creating art out of rocks.

Incarcerated individual Tammy works on the garden at WCCW this fall. (Photo Courtesy of DOC Communications)

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In the heart of the Medium Security Unit yards at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), among the soil and seeds, resides the remarkable transformation story of incarcerated individual Tammy.

Four years ago, Lara Kempton, Recreation Specialist 4 at WCCW, stated, “I encountered a shadow of a woman in the Close Custody Unit – a figure seemingly lost, silent and distant, never making eye contact and rarely uttering more than a whisper.” Fast-forward to the present and Tammy has undergone a magnificent metamorphosis, thanks in large part to gardening.

Tammy's journey is a testament to resilience. From her years as a chief steward in the challenging world of Bering Sea fishing to the life-altering impact and struggles of cancer, Tammy's story unfolds with remarkable honesty. The tumultuous period, marked by cancer treatments and intense fishing experiences, led her to a state of extreme physical and mental exhaustion. Despite enduring multiple challenges, including a shipboard explosion and PTSD, it was the diagnosis of cancer that triggered a cascade of events, including radiation, medication and subsequent incarceration.

Her evolution has been nothing short of inspiring. What was once a soul seemingly adrift has found purpose and passion amidst the nurturing landscape of the yard. Tammy's introduction to gardening at WCCW became a turning point in her life. Initially relegated to working outside the gardens, she found herself drawn to weeding and caring for the neglected spaces.

Her journey of self-discovery took a creative turn when she noticed the unique colors in rocks, inspiring her to create intricate designs with the rocks. Tammy said that the transformative power of the gardens became a source of healing and joy, mending the shattered pieces of her spirit.

Tammy's transformation is like a dormant seed finally sprouting and blooming into a vibrant flower. It embodies the essence of growth and resilience – proof of the incredible power of finding one’s passion. Today, she embraces the world with a radiant smile. She has found her voice and discovered her profound love for seeds and flowers, speaking volumes through her newfound ability to engage, share and connect with others.

Tammy’s story is a celebration of resilience, a tale of finding purpose and blooming where once only shadows existed. Her journey exemplifies the beauty of self-discovery, the nurturing power of passion and the triumphant spirit within each of us. Tammy serves as a beacon of hope and a reminder of the immense strength within the human spirit.