NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The search for escaped West Tennessee inmate Curtis Ray Watson continued Thursday, as family and friends mourned the loss of Debra Johnson.
Johnson was a Middle Tennessee native who graduated from Maplewood High School and later Tennessee State University.
She spent 38 years with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, most currently as the West Tennessee Correctional Administrator.
Johnson spent many precious years working at the Tennessee Prison for Women, where a former colleague says she inspired everyone she came in contact with.
“She was a phenomenal woman, a woman of integrity,” Gredonna Wilkerson told News 2.
Wilkerson says Johnson took her under her wing as they worked together at the women’s prison.
“She was funny, she was caring, she liked to live, she believed in having fun and she believed in living a good life.”
Johnson also wanted others to live life to the fullest.
“She was all about that program rehabilitate, everybody deserves a second chance. I heard her say that over and over again, everybody deserves a second chance in life.”
With that open heart, she says Johnson would regularly interact with the inmates.
“She would go the extra mile for an inmate, she would.”
She says it was not uncommon to see Johnson having lunch with the inmates.
“She would literally buy her lunch, sit in there to eat with them. She was very instrumental, positive influence with the inmates, hands-on if they was having a bad day she would just come calm them down,” Wilkerson explained.
She says the fact that it was an inmate that took Johnson’s life is just unbelievable.
“What she gave her life for, for 38 years that’s all she knew was corrections, it’s just unreal it’s so unreal. It’s heartbreaking.”
Sybil Pruitt who was a friend of Johnson says she blessed many lives.
“She embraced me with all of her love and all of her kindness.”
The two women say they are now leaning on prayer to overcome the pain.
“I think it’s a dark day today, and it’s going to take a moment,” said Pruitt.
“She’s going to be missed, she’s going to really be missed we got some tough days ahead of us, but she’s going to be missed,” echoed Wilkerson.