Tammy Franklin is the program manager at the Prison Fellowship Academy® for women at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in Oklahoma. She formerly served as the Academy manager at Kate Barnard Correctional Center—the same prison where she once served time. The Academy helps women deal with many of the issues, including problems with trust, that often brought them to prison in the first place. She sat down with Inside Journal® to discuss her own journey with trust, identity, and reconciliation.
Inside Journal: What was it like to serve as Academy manager in the very prison where you were once incarcerated?
Tammy Franklin: Many of the women in the program were at one time my peers. It caused me a great deal of concern in the beginning. People will always have opinions—some good, some not so good.
But true integrity is living to the best of your ability, not according to what others might think. [Thankfully,] I [was] treated with nothing but respect from both the staff and women who are incarcerated here.
Was it hard to believe the prison staff could truly trust you at first?
It was. Many were there when I was incarcerated. But I had learned a lot about the importance of trust during my incarceration.
I worked for a chaplain. The more she demonstrated trust in me, the more I wanted to be trustworthy. The more she and the other volunteers listened to my opinions, the more I realized my opinions mattered. She believed in me and in the other women, and the more she showed that, the more we believed in ourselves.
What were your trust issues when you were incarcerated?
Most of my life, I think my issue was really trusting too much. If you gave me the attention I was so desperately seeking, I opened my life to you with no questions asked. I had no boundaries. You could say anything, and I'd want to believe it, no matter what the evidence said to the contrary. That came out of a hunger to be accepted.
When you operate with that level of need and shame, you tend to settle for anyone. It causes a great deal of pain because trusting untrustworthy people can lead you into some bad situations.
How did you eventually learn whom you could trust and whom you couldn’t?
During my last incarceration, I met a group of women whom, in my past, I would have had nothing to do with. I called them "the church ladies with the sparkling eyes." When I gave my life to Christ, and He began to transform me, these women suddenly intrigued me like no others. I noticed that when they said they would be there, they were there. When they spoke, their words were true. They wanted nothing from me in return.
The healthier we become spiritually, the more obvious the "unhealthy" people become. When you are stuck in addiction and criminal behavior, you really do have scales on your eyes. But God changed all that [for me].
How did you deal with regaining your loved ones' trust—especially that of your kids?
It's still a process. It hurts when your family is still remembering the pain from the last time they saw you. [My family] wanted to believe [in me], but my past behavior left them skeptical. I had to move at their pace.
I learned that actions speak much louder than words. If I say I'm going to call, I call. If I say I’m going to write, I write. Today I have my grandkids and both of my sons in my life. They have scars, but we're making progress.
What advice do you have for someone who is struggling to gain a person’s trust?
Trust is earned; it's not a given. We have to love the other person enough to let it happen in their timing. There's no quick fix. But the reward is so worth it if we're willing to stay the course.
We have to be willing to do the right thing—even when we don't get mail or get an answered call.
God is faithful. He can do incredible things if you allow Him. Every day, I walk up that hill to my office, and I see the window to the room where I stayed as a prisoner.
That visual, every morning, is a reminder of what God can do. I'm a staff member, trusted with a set of keys to an office.
I hold on to Galatians 6:9: "So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up."
OUT OF THE DARKNESS
WATCH: For years, Tammy was a part of the problem—but when she walks through the gates today, she is a part of the solution.
Article updated 5/11/2020.
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