My name is Tammy. I moved from Sacramento to Roseville last year following some traumatic events in my life. I began attending Bridgeway while searching for some peace from my past. At the end of one of the services, I decided to go to the front for some prayer and healing. A member of the Prayer Team took me out to the lobby to talk to the Care and Compassion Team. I filled out a few forms and within a few days was called by an angel, Ms. Courtney Smith! This is my story:
I was born to young, drug-addicted parents. When I was two years old, my father committed suicide. He was 19. My young mother (18), went on to marry another abusive drug addict, and life was rough. We moved around from dirty, roach-infested motels, to cars, tents, drug houses, and occasionally our own apartment or house. I attended an average of five schools per year until I dropped out of school entirely at the age of 12.
I was two months into 7th grade when I had enough of the abuse, and I called my aunt and uncle to help me run away. Two days later, my stepfather came to my aunt's house to retrieve me, and it ended in a violent battle. That morning I witnessed, from close proximity, my stepfather stab my uncle as my uncle shot him five times. I was standing within a couple of feet of them. They were both life-flighted away but survived. I was finally taken into children's protective custody once and for all, and my parents never regained custody. This was rough for me, but nowhere near as bad as my home life.
In the foster care system, I bounced around between group homes, receiving homes and psychiatric hospitals. I ran away from all of them. I would commonly run back to the home of my mother and stepfather to use drugs with them. Their house was a free for all. In their home, I could use drugs and do as I pleased, even though I was only 12. I began committing crimes with and without my parents for survival.
On my 18th birthday, I was exited from the foster care system. I quickly married the father of my babies, ages one and two at that time. He was seven years older than me. I had no skills outside of crime. I could not read or write. I did not know how to do a simple math problem. I had never attended a day of high school. I barely had a sixth-grade education.
I first went to jail at 18 years old. When I was 22, my 38-year-old mother was murdered by my stepfather. This rocked me. I took a turn for the worse at this point. I had given my children to family members, and I was on a dead-end track until July 1, 2006, when I was sent to prison. This was the beginning of the rest of my life. It was the day I last committed a crime or used an illegal substance. This prison sentence saved my life.
Ten months before that arrest, I had open heart surgery for a birth defect that had gone unnoticed that would have taken my life within months or weeks. The entire right side of my heart was enlarged like an over-filled water balloon. Thankfully, there was a hole directly in the center of my heart that allowed the blood to flow from the left to the right. All of my valves were directed to the right chamber, so surgery was a no minor thing. They redirected my valves and patched my heart. Unfortunately, I was still an addict, and my addiction had gone from bad to worse. After open heart surgery, I continued to use until the day of that arrest. I would cry and ask God to please not let me die as I would use drugs. I didn't know how to quit, and I didn't want to die. God granted that prayer that day. Upon my arrest, I was close to 95 pounds, and my open heart surgery incision was nowhere near healed. I was so close to death that I was almost unrecognizable.
When I got to the county jail, I asked for and received an easy-to-read version of the Holy Bible. I picked up that book every day and sounded out words, until one day I could string several together. One day I realized that I actually understood what they meant. I had taught myself to read. I then asked for GED classes, and I prayed through every test I took, "Please God, let me pass my GED!" Before I knew it, I had passed, and the warden of the prison threw a party. I got to take a photo in a cap and gown. That was the proudest I had ever been of myself.
While in prison, I attended drug treatment programs and stayed out of trouble. I knew I wanted to change, and this was my opportunity. When I was released from prison, I was mandated to a six-month drug treatment program. Within two weeks of graduating that program, I started taking classes at American River College. I never missed a semester, and I didn't take summers off. I graduated in May 2015 with highest honors and four associates degrees. My degrees are chemical dependency studies, human services, and an associate of arts and social science. I quickly transferred to Sacramento State University into their impacted psychology program, where I am today. I will graduate with my bachelor's degree in psychology on May 19, 2019. I will graduate with honors. I have begun doing policy advocacy at the capitol for bills that affect former foster youth, homelessness, and criminal justice reform. I have obtained an internship in the office of Mayor Darrell Steinberg in the Sacramento City Hall. This opportunity has changed my life.
On August 1, 2018, I applied for a governor's pardon to be able to put my criminal history behind me, and I am happy to announce that on Christmas Eve, God blessed me once again. I got a call from the governor's office telling me that I had been granted a full and unconditional pardon for my crimes. My rights have all been restored, and I now have the opportunity to be or do anything I want. I am currently applying for graduate programs, and my focus is on foster youth, homelessness, or drug addiction. I desperately want to help people.
I have struggled through my education as a single mom. I have successfully finished raising my children, I even helped raise two of my grandchildren. Staying in school has not been easy in the least. I lost my ability to get financial aid several years ago because schooling took so long. Having to learn to read and write and do simple math at the college level took me longer than most. I often attend school without school books and also put my tuition before even buying groceries. I cannot wait to graduate from college with my master's, or maybe even a doctorate someday (with God's grace).
I currently attend counseling at Bridgeway weekly to work on healing all of the hurt that began very early and continued throughout the majority of my life. Bridgeway has also helped me with school, and I could not be more grateful for this. Without Bridgeway's help, I would have had to quit. I am truly blessed. For once in my life I have hope. I credit that to God, His Son Jesus Christ, and Bridgeway!