Community Involvement

RJD fire captain wins top tamale award

Woman smiling and holding a trophy
RJD Fire Capt. Kelly Witt with her top tamale trophy.

Every Christmas, there is a familiar sight at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD) — Fire Captain Kelly Witt and her much-anticipated bag of tamales.

Close-up of a tamale on a plate
Capt. Witt’s sweet pineapple tamales won first place.

Witt has been working for the department for six years. Five years ago, she was working the Thanksgiving holiday when she was gifted a homemade plate of tamales by RJD Fire Chief Hernandez and his wife.

The tamales were so delicious, Witt wondered how she might be able to learn to make them herself. Determined, she set out to learn the ropes of tamale making and began handing out her tamales to the RJD staff every Christmas.

Though her waiting list often exceeds 70 people, Witt doesn’t charge any money for her tamale treats – she hands them out for free. She simply enjoys the gift of bringing joy to others.

“We work in such a difficult environment,” Witt said, “This is how I show my love for my correctional brothers and sisters and spread a little holiday cheer.”

Witt quickly became known as R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility’s resident “tamalera.”

Her tamale-making credentials were made official earlier this month at the 12th Annual Oxnard Tamale Festival in the city of Oxnard, where she brought home a win for R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility.

Witt competed in the “Best Tamale Contest” and won first place in the Sweet Tamales category with her sweet pineapple tamales. Her signature spicy beef habanero tamales were awarded second place in the Savory category and she also placed first runner-up for the Best Overall Trophy.

“I couldn’t believe it when they called my name,” she said. “What an honor.”  

When asked if she would be participating in the contest again next year, Witt exclaimed, “I’m already working on my next winning entry!”