Empowered and Free: How One Graduate Is Transforming Lives in Hawaii
“All of a sudden God made everything so real. I realized why he had brought me so far…to heal me of everything I believed about myself. I was not dumb; I was smart. I felt really empowered for the first time in my life.”
After three days of struggling to understand what was being presented in class, Tammy Turcios had a breakthrough. By faith, she had traveled thousands of miles from Oahu, Hawaii, to Wheaton, Illinois, to attend the School for Correctional Ministries (SCM) credential program, offered through the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. By faith, Tammy, one of six chaplains appointed by the Department of Public Safety in Hawaii, left behind hundreds of volunteers at the Women’s Community Correctional Center—both inmates and those from the local community—in the hopes of providing a better learning environment for them when she returned. And by faith, three days into the class, God opened up a window of understanding of the correctional world that she had never before experienced.
“Growing up, I had four siblings and I looked different from everyone,” Tammy explains. “So people made fun of me. I also had dyslexia, which made school very challenging. I was told I was dumb and would never amount to anything.” By the time she found out she had dyslexia, Tammy had already checked out of school and found success in working with acrylic nails. She made a lot of money and soon found her value in her work.
A Worldview Change
When Tammy was 28, her brother suddenly passed away, throwing her into a downward spiral that lasted nearly a year. “I started to look at life differently. It was short and I had to make the most of it,” she recalls thinking. Tammy began to live a double life—being a wife and mom half of the time and an alcohol and drug abuser the other half. Nine months later, Tammy found herself in a hospital after blacking out from a night of drinking alcohol and abusing drugs. “I was all alone,” she says. “I started to look at my life and knew that God wanted something more for me.”
Growing up Catholic, Tammy had a general knowledge of God, but suddenly she began to sense God saying to her, You knew me, but you did not know my Son. “For so many years, I had been doing what I wanted to do,” she explains, with tears in her eyes. “But then God closed my nail business. Jeremiah 29:11 says that there’s gotta be a reason for this. I began to ask what God wanted for my life.”
A Big Leap of Faith
Tammy soon met a chaplain at a women’s prison who was starting a faith-based program and wanted Tammy to teach the inmates how to paint. “So I went, and God just kept saying, Show up! So I did.” Ten years later, Tammy was running the program and needing training.
“I never thought I’d go back to school,” she says. “I had never written a paper in my life and graduated at the fifth-grade level. But by faith, I signed up.” Tammy fearfully stepped on the plane to attend the SCM. She recalls:
From the first moment, I started hearing voices of the past about my inadequacies. But then God opened my eyes to understand it all. The instructors made me feel valuable and smart. God began to heal me of my past and my confidence increased. Before I attended the [SCM] classes, I felt defeated. That has totally changed. God leaves nothing unturned. He has healed me, and now I can help other women who feel inadequate to finally feel worthy and capable.
A New Sense of Empowerment
Tammy graduated from the SCM with not only a new sense of empowerment and healing from her past, but also fully armed with resources and knowledge to take the program at the women’s prison to a new level. “During the course, I realized I have the gift for strategic planning,” she explains. “Since I began the program, I have been able to implement so many things I have learned.” She oversees over 200 volunteers who lead activities as diverse as counseling and reentry training to learning boundaries and daily living to arts and music. The programs run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the week. Tammy is also moving to get this faith-based program recognized by the parole board.
And of course, all of this includes teaching inmates about Jesus. Tammy has played a key role in many coming to faith in Christ and is now seeing them blossom into gifted leaders.
“I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that God put me here on earth to be in prison,” she says with tears in her eyes. “This is what I was made to do. Luke 4:18-19 is my calling: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner…’”