We were there when she was released prison because she forged a $65.00 check. For a year Eileen Jones followed inmate Tammy Cooper to understand what life is like on the outside for an inmate who has been in Tutwiler, off and on, for almost 16 years. We also told you that Tammy is an alcoholic, and a few months after her release she started drinking again. That landed her in the Elmore County jail.
Now, she spends her time doing what she's been doing for the past three weeks. She's waiting in the Elmore County jail for some word from the Parole Board. She wants to know if it is going to give her another chance, or revoke her parole and send her back to prison. One of those who pleaded for her freedom is Cindy Meador who is one of her sponsors. "It just ripped my heart. It really did, and it frightened me, because all I could see was images of her being led back into jail in handcuffs."
Tammy may finally get the help she needs. When word came from the Parole Board it was good news for her. The board decided to give her another chance, and now she heads out into the world again to find that normal life she's seeking. It is estimated 80 per cent of the inmates in jails and prisons are like Tammy and are there due to alcohol or drugs, but she says she's determine not to end up as one of those statistics. "This is my damn bottom. I can't go no farther down. I can't do it. Any farther down for me I'll be dead."
She's already done almost 16 years at Tutwiler which is located right across the street from where she's just spent almost a month. "Because, I'm telling you, I'm not going back over there. I have sat there and stared at that place for days now and I'm not going back there. The only way for me to do that is to not twist that cap off that bottle."
She begins her new life staying at the Elks Memorial Center where there is some structure and discipline, but after a couple of months Tammy's life takes a familiar turn. She starts drinking again. She's then admitted to "CAP" the Chemical Addictions Program where she lives for a month. But, drinking isn't her only problem. She spends another month at Griel, a mental institution, because she has a bi-polar and post traumatic stress disorder.
The post traumatic stress disorder is a result of an incident that happened to her when she was nine years old. Tammy was the first to find her mother dead after she committed suicide. But, it's after getting treatment and leaving Greil that her life now begins to look up. She finds a place to live near downtown Montgomery, and the first thing she does is catch a ride to town to see her parole officer at the county courthouse. "There was a girl that lived a few doors down from me and I asked her, I said 'Are you going anywhere near downtown,' and she said she was going on the other side of downtown but she'd give me a ride, and I told her just anywhere close to downtown would be fine. That's the last thing I could remember. Next thing I remember, I was in jail."
In jail again, this time after police stop her for driving a stolen mail delivery van at 2:00 in the morning. She says she blacked out and doesn't remember drinking or anything else that happened that night. And it's at this point she seems to have given up. She says she just can't make it in the outside world, and that she gave it her best try. "Sometimes, sometimes old thinking is a whole lot more comfortable and easier than new thinking. Sometimes you don't know how to deal with something and the only thing that works that you know that works is what you've done all your life."
Tammy describes herself as an institutional person who doesn't know how to live without the structure of prisons. But through the experiences of this past year, she says she's learned a lot out on the streets. "Not to take a day for granted. Not to be self centered, because I think in a lot of ways I thought I wasn't self centered. Actually, I was. To look at everything like it's the last time you're going to look at it, and tell the people that love you that you love them too. And more than anything else, I learned how important it is to trust and how I can't do that."
And now, as Tammy waits in the Montgomery County jail for her return to Tutwiler she admits it's pride she's trying to overcome now. "I appreciate all the people that have helped me, and I don't want nobody to think bad about me but I guess I am bad. I guess it's time to go home."
She calls Tutwiler home. After all, it's places like this where she grew up, and it's a place like this where she says she will probably die. "I ain't been able to call no place else home. At least there I know what to expect."
And Tammy's not alone, because more than 34-per cent of those who are released from prisons - return.
We were there when Tammy was released from Tutwiler in July of 2001. She went back to Tutwiler in July of 2002. So, she's been back there now for about seven months. She says she's doing fine, and is in counseling now on a regular basis, and taking classes at the prison like -- "Making Peace With Your Past" and "Alternative to Criminal Thinking." She says she trying to prepare herself for the year 2005 which is when she's eligible for parole again.