My name is Tammy Turcios. I have been married to my husband, Oscar, for six years. We are part of New Hope Windward Foursquare Church (Kaneohe Foursquare Church) in Kailua, Hawaii, pastored by Dave Barr.
I have one son, Brendyn, from my first marriage. We are very close. He’s on the worship team and is a leader in the high school ministry. He wants to become a fireman and a pastor. Oscar serves in the Levite ministry, helping to set up for church services. He has two wonderful sons, Damon and Devon.
I gave my life to Christ 10 years ago. I was going through a divorce, and my life was very dysfunctional. I hit rock bottom, and got invited to New Hope. God started to work in my life, and I began serving in whatever ministries I could.
God started to move me in the direction of His plan. I was going to New Hope, serving in many ministries, taking care of my son, and making a commitment to Jesus to stay single and not date at all.
Then one day in 2002 I met Bonnie, the chaplain at the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC)—the only all-female prison in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu in Kailua. She started to talk about what she did in the prison, and then listened to my life testimony. She asked if I had ever thought about teaching in prison.
My answer, right away, was no! I barely got through high school, because I have dyslexia, and I never went to college. I had never been in prison myself, although with some of the choices I had made, I could have; I just hadn’t gotten arrested. But I told her I would pray about it.
Bonnie said she was just starting a Christian-based program in the prison called Total Life Recovery, which addresses compulsive/addictive behaviors related to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling and eating. She said she needed a classroom painted before the class could begin. I had just taken a class on painting flowers, so she said I could teach the inmates how to do that.
That’s how God got me started in prison ministry, but I realized early on that it wasn’t about the painting. God wanted me to share my testimony and talk to the women about how much He loves them and has forgiven them. So, every day, I went with the intense passion He had given me and loved on them, painted with them, and shared the Word of God with them.
The first 25 inmates we took into the program were the hardest-core women in the prison, the ones the system had given up on. I watched Bonnie and saw what the job of a chaplain entails, and told God that is what I wanted my purpose and plan to be.
I started to teach classes and do one-on-one counseling. God used my past for the good, to help them. I loved helping the women see something different about how they were viewing their lives, helping to change their thinking.
I then was asked to be a chaplain assistant. Three years later, in February 2008, I was appointed by the Department of Pubic Safety as the youngest chaplain of only eight prison chaplains in the state of Hawaii. This God did without me having a college degree and barely making it in high school!
I then started a weekly church service in the prison on Wednesday nights, called New Hope WCCC. We started small, but it grew really fast. The women were hungry for the Word of God.
The service started to bring in more than half of the prison population—about 140 women out of the 240 women incarcerated there. The chapel was very run down, so I talked to Pastor Dave about upgrading the chapel. He has always been supportive of what God is doing in and through me in the prison. We needed new chairs, paint, high-tech equipment, office furniture, Bibles and a new computer.
So, we cast the vision to New Hope, and we raised over $100,000 as well as needed services and materials, such as an air conditioning unit, tile and furniture. We were able to get everything on our wish list, and more. We grew so big that we had to use two big rooms for our service on Wednesday nights, and we were able to buy equipment for both rooms.
We are in now in our third year at New Hope WCCC. I have trained the inmates to do everything now, from set up to breakdown, worship to announcements, bulletins to running the tech equipment, and even the messages. They are leaders who run the whole service—my team and I just show up!
I love what I do. I know this is the reason I was put on this earth. When I think about that, I start to cry with intense joy, because I know I am right in the middle of what God wants me to do for Him. My son is my other joy and gift in this life, and I am grateful to say that with Jesus’ help, I have stewarded him well.
Every day I am in the prison, I never forget I could easily have been here; I am no different than them. I also never forget that serving Jesus in prison is a gift and that one day, I will stand before God, and He will ask me, “What did you do with each life I gave you?” I believe He will name each woman in prison. I pray that what I will hear is, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That is what I live to hear.