Part 2 - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

February 4, 2003

Part 2

It is estimated by the year 2005 almost 90-per cent of those who are released from prison for committing multiple crimes will go back into society and commit another one. Why do these inmates leave prison and return to the lives they once knew? We have the second part in a series of four reports about an inmate who went to prison sixteen years ago for forging a 65-dollar check.

These past three weeks have been good for former inmate Tammy Cooper. Since her release from prison, she has a temporary place to live, regular meals and new clothes that you could almost call interdenominational. "The jacket I got from the Salvation Army thrift store. They gave me a voucher for ten dollars worth of clothes. And the pants came from the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, and the tennis shoes are from Frazer Clothes Closet."

She's on her way to see her parole officer at a place that's quite familiar to her. This is her third time on parole, and so she knows what to do here without being told, but this time she's a different person. She says she's determined to make it in the outside world and that's why she's uneasy about meeting her parole officer. "Because he has the power. He's the one that decides whether you stay or go."

She also knows she must get her felon card from the sheriff's office and one from the police station. Without it on her at all times she could get up to fifteen years in prison. "It's not something I'm gonna show to anybody. It'll stay in my wallet, but it's something I have to have. The sheriff's deputy the asks her where was she born. She answers "Tulsa, Oklahoma."

But since Oklahoma, 40 year old Tammy Cooper was practically raised in jails and prisons. She's spent almost sixteen years behind bars here at Tutwiler. Now that she's out, the adjustment to life on her own is getting tough. The hurdles she's having to overcome now are simple ordinary tasks that the rest of us take for granted - like grocery shopping. Tammy says "Little small things like that really mess me up or going in to buy Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. When I got locked up there was one kind and now there's a whole aisle."

Decisions like that are scary not only about macaroni and cheese, and toothpaste and bread, but also about how to use time wisely. This is a big hurdle for her because, remember, she comes from a world where for more than a decade all decisions were made for her. "Idle time. Too much time on my hands. That seems to be when I get into trouble."

But there won't be much idle time with her schedule. She's enrolled as a full-time student in graphic arts, and has a full-time job to keep her busy, but the biggest hurdles she must face are her addictions. "The people that I hung with in 1985 were not the best quality people - doing drugs and alcohol and things of that nature and that lifestyle, and I'm comfortable with that. I'm not comfortable with normal people. I don't know how to do that."

And now, the learning process is beginning, and she starts by admitting she has a problem. "Just bottom line - I'm just an alcoholic. Always have been. Had my years as a drug addict and more than my share of the years as an alcoholic. I think I was weaned on whisky. So, I'm just going to avoid that at all costs. I won't even work anywhere that has alcohol"

But in our next report, Tammy risks it all. One mistake and potentially a life sentence back in prison. "That idle time and picking the wrong people are the things that scare me the most, because I know that I can't do that. Cause I'm not going back. They're not going to get me back in Tutwiler ever again."

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