Tammy Kimball hopes her story will bring awareness to the dangers of working in a prison and help prevent a future assault.
On the morning of June 14, 2014, Tammy Kimball’s life changed forever. She arrived at work early in the morning as she did every day. Tammy works as an AC Cook at the Washington State Penitentiary where she supervises inmates working in the kitchen.
Working in a prison carries constant risk. Tammy had been on staff at WSP for four years. She has the instincts of a trained prison employee.
That morning Tammy noticed one inmate was acting erratically. “He just had this horrible attitude,” she said. “He was throwing trays on the table instead of stacking them nicely."
She tried to calm him down, but nothing seemed to work. He would only mutter under his breath, so she couldn’t understand what he was saying. She knew something was wrong.
Tammy feared for the safety of other staff and offenders. She decided this inmate needed to be sent home for the day. She approached the officer on duty and explained the situation, but didn’t realize the inmate had followed her. When she turned to see what was behind her, he knocked her out.
She wouldn’t have remembered what happened next, if not for the prison security cameras. His initial punch knocked her to the floor. “He split my lip wide open up to my nose. I was knocked out,” Tammy recalled.
When she regained consciousness, he was on top of her, punching her face and shoulders. Another AC Cook was pulling her out from under him and several officers were pulling off the offender. She was half responsive, covered in blood beneath a dog pile of fighting.
“The girl that pulled me out from the pile was a brand new employee. It was her second day after training,” Tammy said. “She was shaken up, but I am very thankful for her coming to help me.”
Tammy was out of work until October 1 of that year. The Department put enormous pressure on her to come back early in a clerical position, but she wasn’t coming back until she was healed.
Several co-workers visited her while she was recovering at home. Dozens more sent cards or called her on the phone. She says looking out for one-another is part of the DOC culture.
“My heart just starts going crazy. I need go be alone to calm down.”
Tammy is now back at work, still in the WSP kitchen, but the effects of her assault remain with her. She has a thick white scar running from her lip to her nose.
One Saturday morning a couple of months after returning to work, she came into the kitchen and the smell overwhelmed her. Her heart started racing uncontrollably and anxiety flooded her body. This was the effect of posttraumatic stress disorder.
Tammy talked with a doctor, who said certain things would trigger the PTSD. She cannot be in large crowds anymore. “My heart just starts going crazy. I need go be alone to calm down,” she said.
One time she looked directly into the fluorescent lights in the kitchen and was overcome with anxiety. Her doctor said that was likely the last thing she saw before being knocked out.
It took a while for her to be able to watch the video of her assault, but now she talks openly about it. She thinks everyone should watch the video because it would help if they were ever in a similar situation.
“It was interesting to watch my coworkers containing the scene and directing inmates away,” she said after watching the video. “We have a great team here.”
Tammy hopes speaking about her experience can help someone else avoid an assault. But she knows that working in a prison is never completely safe. That’s the price she and our other corrections members pay to keep our communities safe.