TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Working at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office means more than words can express for Toya Adams. Every day, she walks into the Vocational Training Center with the mission to help each inmate learn a new skill and discover their full potential.
Becoming a deputy never crossed her mind. Instead, Toya thought she would end up on the other side of the law, caught in a cycle of trauma and violence.
“I look like them. I talk like them. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I came from that same life,” she said.
Toya grew up in Tampa’s College Hills Public Housing, one of seven children raised by a single mother in and out of abusive relationships.
“Growing up in an abusive household, being molested. I didn’t think I’d ever make it,” Toya said, “It was rough. I went out to the streets looking for love, that’s all. I thought it was my way out.”
Toya dropped out of high school and at 15 became a single mom, also caught in and out of abusive relationships like her mom. She vowed to break what had become a cycle in her family and found motivation in her daughter to achieve more than she once thought was possible. “I looked at her. I didn’t want her to go through what I went through so I said I wanted something in life. I wanted that good life,” said Toya, “So I poured into her what my mom couldn’t give me, I wanted to make sure I gave to her more. So that kept me going a lot.”
Wanting a brighter future, Toya began working at the sheriff’s office in the jail kitchen. Soon, deputies took notice of how well she interacted with the inmates and encouraged her to become a deputy.
“I never thought I was good enough because I didn’t go to school,” said Toya, ” they gave me inspiration and I started looking into and believing in myself that I am somebody.”
Somebody who is now empowering hundreds of inmates who feel the same way she once did.
“You have to lift people up because some people never heard it before,” Toya said, “Nobody tells them that they’re worthy, or they’re loved, or you’re good. They’ve never heard of that before. I put this suit on every day knowing that I’m helping somebody.”
Through compassion, Toya reminds inmates that they have the power to change the course of their lives.
“It’s easy to lock them up but what do we do with them when they’re here? We got to give them encouragement to keep them from coming back.”
One welding lesson, one hair braiding lesson, one lesson of compassion….at a time.
“When I hear I can’t do this, I went through all that, I’m like look, just keep pushing on. Life itself is going to hit you down but you got to continue to get back up,” Toya said with tears in her eyes.