Family of slain TDOC administrator feels ‘joyful,’ one year later

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(WKRN) — Several memorial ceremonies were held across the state Friday to mark the anniversary of the death of TDOC employee Debra Johnson.

Johnson was known as “queen” inside the Tennessee Women’s prison, the building now renamed the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center in her honor.

The salute overshadowing her families sorrow on the anniversary of that somber day.

“Honestly it feel like it happened yesterday,” explained Johnson’s son Mychal Austin.

He described the time that’s passed as horrible, yet glorious.

“I woke up with a joyful heart,” said Austin.

His heart is full of sentiments from across the state of the inspirational, optimistic spirit his mother lived by.

“My mother gave everyone a chance, not a second chance just gave them a chance. It’s comforting to know you impacted people in that way,” said Austin.

Johnson’s legacy now forever remembered not only inside the prison but outside with the name change.

“I can say I feel better now than I have over any period since she’s been gone. It’s because I know how much this building was to her, what it meant to her, and her career and these inmates, these prisoners, some of them are here to honor her and just to make sure all the work she did didn’t go in vain and that someone will honor it and recognize it and continue her legacy was just the most beautiful and blessed thing we could have gotten.”

A ceremony and balloon release was held on the prison grounds Friday afternoon. The dozens of purple and white balloons flew high and served as a reminder to the family of Johnson’s optimistic spirit that they will forever cherish.

“She was royalty, and because of that, we wear purple and we wear it proudly and continue to honor her and walk-in royal ways as well,” said Austin.

Details are still being worked out for a formal ceremony to celebrate the prison name change.

Curtis Watson is accused of the rape and murder of Johnson.

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