TIPTON COUNTY, Tenn. — Loved ones of fallen correctional administrator Debra Johnson will honor her in a visitation and funeral later this week.
Johnson was allegedly killed by inmate Curtis Watson, a low security trusty who escaped Wednesday from the prison where Johnson worked and lived.
Melinda Snow lived and worked in Lauderdale County for years, and can still remember when she became friends with Johnson. Johnson stopped into Snow’s workplace for lunch, and upon learning it was her birthday, returned hours later, with a cake and card for a woman that at the time, she barely knew.
"I was like, wow. This woman literally had only known me maybe a week, maybe two weeks at tops," Snow said. "And she went out of her way to do this. And it was wonderful.”
Snow admits that residents near the West Tennessee State Penitentiary are always aware of the prison and its inmates, but she never saw something like this coming, especially to a strong professional like Johnson.
"It always runs through your head, you do see the inmates that are trustys, that are outside," Snow said. "But you never think in a million years that this is gonna happen.”
Watson might be back behind bars at the Tipton County jail, but that provides little peace for Johnson’s family and friends. They won’t rest until they receive the justice that she deserves.
Despite their grief, Johnson’s family has felt the outpouring of support.
"They asked me to express the appreciation to everyone, for your prayers and for the work that’s been done in bringing Watson into custody,” Tony Parker said.
There’s no consensus on the right punishment for her alleged murderer.
"I think he needs life in prison," Snow said. "The death penalty is just a cheap way out, and I don’t think the family gets any kind of closure when they get the death penalty.”