Red Tent Program in the Jail

The Red Tent offers classes two days each week at the Pinellas County Jail. We are currently able to work with fifteen female inmates at a time. Trained staff & volunteers teach and supervise the women in the creation of marketable handmade items using donated sewing supplies & recycled fabric/clothing. Sewing machines are provided by the jail.

Participants are also required to complete a series of Red Tent Support Groups, led by group facilitators which include information on

  • The resolution of trauma
  • Financial literacy and
  • Mindfulness training.

Each class meets for 4 hours per day, 2 times a week. Class composition changes as women arrive and leave the facility. Participants receive art lessons; creating crafts that represent lessons learned, changes achieved and personal goals for the future. Volunteer speakers present their stories and share expertise with the women on a variety of subjects including

  • The practice of yoga
  • The cycle of addiction
  • Parenting and
  • Steps for successful reintegration.

Participants enrolled in the Red Tent program at the Pinellas County Jail create unique crafts that represent the personal goals they have set for release.

These items are for sale through our online store & at various neighborhood markets. When you support these efforts, you help increase each woman’s chances for successful reintegration back into our community & with  their families.

Class attendance can change daily, depending on who has been released or moved onto prison. New women will often come to class on their first day with a negative or fearful attitude; avoiding eye contact or refusing to speak much. For many, this is the first class they signed up for since being incarcerated – and that they only did so at the urging of other women.

Trixie, a 50 year old ex-prostitute angrily announced on her first day that she would try our class once but probably not come back because “I’m not going to change and as soon as I leave jail I’m going back out on the streets so I can keep using.” She has faithfully attended every class we have offered for the past 3 months, leaving soon to serve a mandatory 7 year sentence in prison for possession & sale of narcotics. Her embroidery now hangs throughout the classroom laden with messages of hope & inspiration for the other women to see.

Each class opens with Circle Time so staff & participants can share news, ask for assistance with a problem, or discuss anything that might be on their minds. New participants will often tell us that they only signed up for Red Tent because they were bored & tired of sitting in their cells. Female inmates are oftentimes reticent to attend classes that the jail provides. Depressed & anxious, they choose to sit in their cells, trying to sleep away their sentences.

The Red Tent Program consistently has a long waiting list & is currently the best-attended program for women at the jail.

Class meets from 11 – 3. Polly, the lead instructor & fabric artist, teaches the women embroidery, both by hand and on sewing machines – using donated fibers & materials. Participants are encouraged to create something inspirational that they can take home with them upon release. Beautiful pillow shams, prayer flags, small bags, pillows & wall hangings have been designed & created under Polly’s guidance. Messages of better tomorrows, courage & love for family are carefully sewn into these items which are then placed in the inmate’s property to take home upon release.

Noko, our class assistant, works side by side with the women leading group discussions on topics pertinent to their situation such as anger management, substance abuse & codependency. Motivational speakers are often invited in to share their stories, opening hearts & imparting wisdom that has been hard earned through meeting & overcoming life challenges.

Enter the Red Tent room at the jail & you can feel a peace & calm that does not exist for these women anywhere else.

Music plays in the background while women sit together sewing, sharing stories, & oftentimes extending a helping hand to someone who is grieving the loss of freedom & family in a space that has been designed to instill a feeling of safety & security.

Carey called me 3 weeks after she was released. She moved in with her pregnant daughter, getting ready to help with the new baby who was due to arrive soon. When we talked about how her adjustment to life on the outside was going so far, she described new feelings of hope she was now experiencing since attending Red Tent. “I never thought I could become something different until now. I have hope & I am so grateful that I have it. I have people now in my life that care & that are there for me & that is going to make the difference.”

The women are strongly encouraged to keep in touch with us once they leave the jail. We provide contact information for them & also a drop in group that meets on Mondays at my office specifically focused on issues that might arise once they are released & attempting to reintegrate with their families. Each participant receives a copy of the community resource list & a list of current job leads with employers who are committed to giving ex-offenders a second chance. Women call us to share good news & bad.

  • Jenny finally landed a job at a local hospital & sent a picture of her new employee badge.
  • Sylvie emailed me a long note about a recent death in her family that was threatening her sobriety.
  • Anna is still looking for someone to help babysit so she can keep her night job & support the two of them. She just regained her parental rights 2 weeks ago.