Unless the words you are reading right now are your first introduction to Beit T’Shuvah (in which case: welcome, hold on, you matter), you are well aware of the wonderful and unique individuals that fill our one-of-a-kind organization. Within the last six months, our community has been blessed to have a new staff member join our team—someone who has provided so much love and levity to both our residents and staff. If laughter is the best medicine, the doctor is in. So, let me introduce you to the joke-making, fun-loving, kind-hearted, Tammy Shine…who just so happens to save countless lives every single day.
The phone rings. Tammy is at a climbing gym not far from here. It is Carrie Newman, the head of our Alternative Sentencing Department. If you don’t know what that is (again: welcome, both/and, next right action), it is our program that helps incarcerated individuals either avoid being sentenced to jail or prison or helps to open their cell and bring them home. For most of her life, Tammy has been deeply and wildly passionate about prison reform. Ever since she was young, she believed that how we treat our inmates is wrong and has dreamt of doing anything she can to help those suffering from our cruel prison system. That’s when that life-changing call came in. After a screening call with Carrie and an in-person interview, she was thrown into a position that afforded her the opportunity to do everything she ever dreamt of.
Tammy has prison reform in her blood. Her grandfather was a Rabbi who worked as a prison Chaplain, helping those behind bars find themselves and find spirituality… which sounds a little bit like what we do here, doesn’t it? The rest of her family, although not always this way, are now as close as could be. “My family, even my parents, are my best friends.” Her loving family started when her parents met in Israel. They had her two brothers, moved to Michigan, and had her. After moving around a lot, trying to find the perfect place to raise their family, the Shines settled on Los Angeles. When she was in fifth or sixth grade, Doug Rosen in prevention came to speak to her grade at Sinai Akiba—Tammy’s first introduction to Beit T’Shuvah. Later in her life, she attended Milken Community School with former Beit T’Shuvah counselor Lily Morris, who spoke in length about the work we do here and how it benefitted her family (but that’s a story for another spotlight). So, by the time she entered college, she was very well-versed in everything BTS.
Looking for a change in scenery, Tammy decided to attend Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Once Covid hit, she attended the remainder of her remote classes in Tahoe, where she taught herself how to snowboard. One thing to know about Tammy is that she absolutely adores the outdoors. “I love being outside. I think ‘Mountain Woman’ describes me. I am a little bit feral…everywhere but court. I clean up for court,” Tammy says with an infectious ear-to-ear grin. After Tahoe, she traveled all over the country with nothing more than her love of adventure guiding her way. Soon, she started moving to new locations based on opportunities in the field of her dreams: helping incarcerated individuals.
When Tammy was in college, she was part of an organization, The Center for Prison Education, that led remote book clubs and helped transcribe and digitize a book that was being written by two incarcerated individuals. This was her first taste of working with those in custody. Later on, she became a volunteer teacher for kids in a juvenile detention facility. After that, she joined an organization called The Reader’s Circle, which helped edit and transcribe written works by those in custody. She would work on anything from werewolf/zombie fanfiction, to heartbreaking true-life stories of trauma. This moving experience only solidified her desire to continue working in this field.
Now that Tammy works here, she gets to go into jails and prisons helping get people who are trying to turn their lives around a second chance; she goes to court and fights on behalf of people trying to turn around their lives and can see the change she makes every day. “I think that knowing someone that is fighting for them and that someone believes in them and cares about them goes a long way.” When I asked her about her work here, she became very humble…too humble…but I’m not her. So, let me tell you what kind of an unbelievable crater-sized impact she makes on people’s lives.
Let me put it simply: There are people walking around today, free, singing at Shabbat services, with full lives and hope in their hearts, because of Tammy and the rest of the Alternative Sentencing Department.
We talk a whole lot about gratitude here, but most of the time that level of love for Beit T’Shuvah is exclusively held by those of us who have gone through the program or the family members of those who have. Tammy, despite not being an addict at all, has the same level of love and gratitude for this organization that you would expect from an alumnus who has been sober for 20+ years. “This is one of the most warm, encouraging, supportive, and accepting communities that I have ever been a part of. I think Beit T’Shuvah is actively working to get people the help that they need. They do that in a way I truly believe in.” The warm glow in her eyes when she said this cannot properly be described. You’ll have to ask her about how much she loves Beit T’Shuvah and see it for yourself—it’s magical and, through her, you will undoubtedly love our little slice of sanctuary more.
Truly, she has become a beacon of light for those looking to step out of the darkness they have been living in for so long. When someone needs uplifting, when someone in prison or jail wants to turn their life around—in the cold and the dark, Tammy Shines. So, if this really is your introduction to Beit T’Shuvah, I am glad it was through Tammy. She may be the perfect person to help lovingly, graciously, and humorously, welcome you into this community (welcome, you matter, hold on, both/and, next right action…Tammy Shine).