Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Opinion

Maxwell: A program that works for women in jail

In 2011, Barbara Rhode went to a neighborhood estate sale of a woman who had committed suicide following a divorce. Before leaving, she decided to walk through the dead woman's bedroom to send her "good thoughts and perhaps get a better understanding of what had gone wrong."

On the nightstand was a copy of Anita Diamant's novel Red Tent. Rhode bought a copy of the novel. Set during biblical times, the narrative describes a red tent where women stay when ill, depressed, alone, grieving or afraid, a place where young and old women or children could share stories, wisdom and compassion.

She said the story's premise became the bedrock of the program she founded in 2012 for women held at the Pinellas County Jail, the Red Tent Women's Initiative. Because she had many years in private practice as a marriage and family therapist, she approached Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and offered to work with female inmates. Seeing the wisdom of the offer, the sheriff gave Red Tent a classroom with windows, supplies and modest funds.

Rhode hired a part-time teacher and group facilitator with her own money. Cynics cautioned that inmates probably would not attend the class because many try to sleep their sentences away out of grief or depression. But the voluntary program soon had a waiting list. Since its founding, it has served more than 1,000 women and has changed many lives for the better. Today, the Sheriff's Office gives Red Tent $18,000 annually.

Three days a week from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., as many as 15 women gather in the Red Tent classroom to get the therapeutic benefits of using their hands sewing, embroidery and crocheting. They also listen to guest speakers.

"My dream was to create a safe, nurturing space where these women could meet and create crafts, while being saturated with information, community resources, mentoring and coaching," Rhode said. "The research shows that women release more nurturing brain chemicals when they keep their hands busy with crafts. These amazing chemicals make them feel safe and secure."

I went to the jail recently and spent a day with Red Tent. I watched the women crochet and sew as they discussed their plights. I was struck by their desperation, their desire to change their lives and their pleas for compassion in a society filled with deep biases.

I was particularly struck by the sameness of their experiences. Most were mothers, and most had issues with drugs. Many are victims of physical abuse, rape, domestic violence, sexual trafficking and childhood incest. Many grew up with relatives who were repeat offenders.

No matter how much progress the women make while incarcerated, Rhode and her two staff members, Crystal Adams Nixon and Nobuko Coussoule, know the toughest battle begins the day the women are released back into society. This is when they need the most help and receive the least.

To help give the women a good start, Red Tent has established community support groups and has partnered with several organizations and agencies in addition to the Sheriff's Department. They include Pinellas Technical College, Pinellas Exoffender Re-Entry Coalition, Pinellas Hope, St. Petersburg Women's Free Clinic, Catholic Charities and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

The simplest things that are taken for granted often are the most important for the women to get a new start, Rhode said. They need to feel good about themselves, and they need to be in the right places at the right times.

Last year, Red Tent and the Women's Free Clinic created a clothing and accessory closet for the newly released women to get shoes, undergarments and accessories so they can go for a job interviews. PTEC's cosmetology school gives the women free haircuts, manicures or pedicures. Red Tent also purchased PSTA bus passes for the women so they can get to job interviews. Subway agreed to interview qualified Red Tent participants for employment. Rhode said a few have become assistant managers or managers.

Although Red Tent has a low recidivism rate and is the envy of many similar programs around the nation, it operates on a budget of less than $30,000 a year. Rhode said her biggest disappointment is the lack of financial support in the region.

She said people are wrong to persist in believing that incarceration is the best way to deal with women who have been traumatized as a result of abuse and neglect.

"There are so many women who reach out to us for support and assistance once released from jail or prison," Rhode said. "We really need financial support from the community to help and continue our work."

Comments
Editorial: Florence shows why flood insurance must be fixed

Editorial: Florence shows why flood insurance must be fixed

The floodwaters have been still rising in North Carolina, more than a week after Hurricane Florence swept through the state. The storm continues to wreak havoc in areas where fewer than 1 in 10 homeowners have flood insurance, underscoring the need f...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: DeSantis, Scott send mixed messages on oil drilling

Editorial: DeSantis, Scott send mixed messages on oil drilling

Every candidate for federal and state office in Florida should be unequivocal in opposing oil drilling off the coast and crystal clear in supporting a permanent extension to the federal ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. But the Republica...
Published: 09/24/18
Updated: 09/25/18
Editorial: Florida needs uniform standards for voting by mail

Editorial: Florida needs uniform standards for voting by mail

Vote by mail has been a stunning success in Florida, increasing turnout and making it easy and convenient to cast a ballot with time to research and reflect. But a new study shows that mail ballots cast by African-American, Hispanic or younger voters...
Published: 09/21/18
Editorial: Borrowers need protection from Marlin Financial

Editorial: Borrowers need protection from Marlin Financial

State and federal lending regulations exist to protect consumers from being surprised — and overwhelmed — by ballooning debt. Marlin Financial, a shadowy auto lender doing business around Florida, seems to be skirting those protections ...
Published: 09/21/18
Editorial: Putnam hire stinks of patronage, secrecy

Editorial: Putnam hire stinks of patronage, secrecy

In addition to a lesson on political patronage, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam needs a refresher on the particulars of state public records law.In January 2017, Putnam hired the 27-year-old son of a former Publix executive to a high-pay...
Published: 09/20/18
Editorial: Investigate first, then hold Kavanaugh confirmation vote

Editorial: Investigate first, then hold Kavanaugh confirmation vote

There should be a timely investigation of the allegation of sexual assault against Judge Brett Kavanaugh before senators hear from him and his accuser, let alone vote on whether they should confirm his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. The proces...
Published: 09/20/18
Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

The heated debate on immigration could benefit from some more facts, which the U.S. Census has helpfully provided. And the facts show that rather than building walls, the United States would do far better to keep opening doors to legal immigrants. Th...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/20/18
Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

The federal Food and Drug Administration is bringing important scrutiny to the increasing use of e-cigarettes, requiring companies that make and sell them to show they are keeping their products away from minors. Vaping is the new front in the nation...
Published: 09/18/18

Tuesday’s letters: Honor Flight restored my faith in America

Dogs are the best | Letter, Sept. 15Honor Flight restored my faith in AmericaJust as I was about to give up on our country due to divisiveness and and the divisions among its people and politicians, my pride was restored. As a member of the recen...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/19/18
Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a no...
Published: 09/17/18