A retired lesbian cop goes to jail for “60 Days In”

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AE: What kind of toll does it take on you to have to go undercover, essentially acting as a completely different person for 60 days?

Tami: As a police officer, when you go undercover, there’s a chance that you may not come home, no matter what you’re doing. There’s always that chance. If you look at everything going on in the world right now, on a daily basis, there are police officers whose lives are taken. And I’m grateful I’m retired while it’s happening, but there’s been many times I’ve been shot at, I’ve been poked with things, I’ve been at risk of getting HIV, I’ve had baseball bats swung at me. There was always that chance, and my wife knew that. But on the average day, putting myself in a situation undercover, you’re coming home at night because you have somebody within a minute or two of you to back you up. Going into jail, it is you and just you, and there were so many things that happened on the inside that I was forced to turn a blind eye to. Not only are you looking in collaboration with a sheriff and having to maintain your identity for the program, but you’re taking it a step further, me as a police officer. So it was extremely, extremely difficult. And I know for me in the cell that I was living in, it was home base for a lot if illegal activity, so that two months was insane.

 

AE: I have to ask about your cellmate, Jennifer, who seemed to be causing you some trouble, and is definitely the kind of person I wouldn’t want to run into if I was in jail.

Tami: I did move out of that particular cell into another cell because the conflict with her—it was too heavy for me. It was just more than I wanted to deal with. You can see obviously from the trailer that I sit there and I am just in tears, which, for me, is something that I never wanted to happen. When I entered into this, I was like “I’m not going to get to that point emotionally. No one’s going to break me.” As a police officer, we say, “That does not happen.” For me, it happened. She was a big part of it. I was never afraid of Jennifer and that was kind of the attitude she portrayed because she came from another prison where she was on trial for capital murder for three years. So she walked around telling people “Oh this is me; this is my life,” and basically, that is what she wanted everyone in that pod to be afraid of her. So I walk in and then the other faction was all of a sudden Jennifer comes out of the closet and they’re seeing this strong, confident gay woman, and we completely bumped heads.

 

AE: So she wasn’t out before you came in?

Tami: No, she was not. And as a matter of fact, people came to me and said, “Wow, we don’t know what’s going on. This is the first that we’re hearing of Jennifer being gay.” I think I was a real thorn in her side because all of these girls were coming—I was hit on like crazy in there, and I think that was really bothersome to her.

 

AE: There are shows like Orange is the New Black, for example, that people say can glamorize what it’s like to be in prison; that it’s a bunch of lesbian sex with hot inmates. What do you think about that?

Tami: It’s funny because I do watch Orange and I watched it prior to—before I ever even knew about this project. Jail and prison, I have to say, and I’m not sure you know what the difference is, they are two separate entities. Jail is completely different from prison. Actually, your time in jail is much tougher than your time in prison. I was like “Wow.” I mean I knew it was going to be difficult but it was not what I was expecting at all. You’re stuck in one room and I did not see the sun, literally, for two months. I was not outside for two months. Those girls [in prison] have a prison yard and different areas they can go to, showers where they have privacy in terms of their shower time, they have bathroom time—I didn’t have any of that; none.

Is it glamorized? It may be. The girls took certain steps to put their makeup on in jail. Color pencil and toothpaste made mascara and lipstick. Those things, are they readily available in prison? Do they sell them in commissary? I don’t know. Granted, I shave my hair anyway but for the other girls, when it was haircut day for them—you see Laverne Cox come out in this salon in prison. I wanted to get my hair cut in jail because I wanted to do as the other girls were doing because I felt bad for them. They had to get their hair cut with men’s clippers, which is horrible. It’s terrible; these poor girls. Who deserves that?

So is this how they’re truly living in prison with a salon and these gorgeous girls? Let me just say my father-in-law was a warden of a medium security prison in Rhode Island so I had some good information going in, what I knew I should and should not be expecting. In terms of not going outside for two months, he flat out told me he would understand why it would happen in this particular jail. Maybe it was the way in which it was built. I don’t know; I can’t answer that. But jail itself is much crueler than prison.

AE: It also looks really, really boring. A lot of sitting around.

Tami: We actually had girls who came over from Rockville Prison and there were tons of programs that were offered in prison. The beauty of this program, and I’m so grateful to the sheriff for, is that he is attempting to take what we have told him and make changes to offer these girls. We didn’t have [programs]. A lot of what they did offer was a faith-based program which, for me, was not something—it was a lot of Christian-based stuff that wasn’t my religious preference. That was it, and they had a GED class in the morning. It was sporadic at times, and that was the only two things they had. And AA. That was it. So to say that it’s so much sitting around—rec classes, they were supposed to take us down to the gym twice a week and they never did. This is all part of the sheriff is trying to make. He’s like, “I need to know what’s happening in my jail so I can fix it.” So yeah, it was a rough two months. And going into it and people not knowing who I was and being treated a certain way, was it tough? Yeah, but I was grateful to have had that experience.

 

AE: What’s something you learned about yourself or that you feel was changed within you after this experience?

Tami: I definitely wanted to go in to be a much more humble individual. Like I said, there were questions I wanted to answer for myself, like “Why personally did I not become that person? Why did I not turn to drugs or alcohol or a life or crime?” The first part of it for me was, it’s not that I was ever going to take that path, it’s just that I—I came out of the womb too strong for that. Way too strong. I was never meant to be that person from the beginning. And knowing that, leaving that facility, I felt 100 percent grateful. But I can see the flipside part of it for me, spending a career as a police officer and saying, “Oh what happens to these girls or these people that I lock up? Throw them into the system;. I don’t care what happens. Lock ’em up and that’s the end of it.” I got to see how they live. There are people that I left there and I can sit here on the phone with you at this very second and say it bothers me not to know what’s happening with them. I left there feeling like “Where are they now?” Some of these people have touched my life in such a way. Some people were saying, “Bye Tami! We love you; we’re gonna miss you” and some people left to go to rehab while I was there and it breaks my heart to not know how they’re doing. And that’s something I never expected was going to happen to me.

AE: Do you think they’ll ever find out who you were or be able to connect with you?

Tami: Obviously I went in under an assumed identity; they don’t know my last name, they don’t know where I live. I’m sure in watching the clips they’re going to find out I’m a police officer. And I don’t want them to think I went in there just to infiltrate and spill their secrets. Some of them, do they deserve to be there? Of course. But that is life. But there are girls that I feel like I actually got close to. You know my wife said to me, “Do you think you’re going to go in there and make lifelong friends?” And I said jail is not where you to go make lifelong friends. That is not that. But to say that I don’t feel like there were girls, just a select few, that I grew close to and genuinely feel they are trying to make a difference in their life and if they got set up with the right programs, they’re going to be just fine, and that pleases me.

 

AE: Did you meet anyone that you saw a little bit of yourself in?

Tami: Of course. And the thing of it is, I talked a lot with some of these girls and they said, “Tami, I would have never guessed you had such a traumatic life.” And my goal was to take that and try and empower these girls. That’s part of why I chose to do this. It’s part of why I became a police officer in the first place.

 

AE: How did you become so strong and proud of you who are and your identity?

Tami: As with anything, it was not always easy. I suffered a ton in my job. First of all, there was a time when women weren’t even welcome as a police officer. It wasn’t even a career choice. And to take a gay woman? [They’d] say, “We’re not having this; we’re not dealing with this.” So I think part of it was just for me to come out and start proving myself. I had some outstanding arrests; that was part of it. Part of it was just me saying, “This is who I am; if you like me, that is fine. If you don’t, that is fine also. I’m still going to be here, and you’re not going to keep me down.” That’s who I have always been. But I think a bigger portion of it for me now is having a daughter. I have a seven-year-old at home and I am trying to set a great example for her where I want her to understand you can be anything you want to be in life. I don’t want her to feel like who I am and my wife, who we are as a couple, should be any reflection on her. That’s important to us.

60 Days In premieres tonight, Thursday, March 10 on A&E. You can also watch the first episode on A&E’s website.

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