Red Tent in the Pinellas County Jail

Red Tent Women’s Initiative works with women incarcerated in the Pinellas County Jail.  Qualified Red Tent instructors use research-based techniques to help these women implement positive coping skills to address issues such as unresolved trauma, addiction and socioeconomic disadvantage. Through our program, these women learn to build better lives for themselves and their children, avoiding a return to jail and ultimately making our communities safer.

The Red Tent program is based on five pillars of supportive treatment:

  1. Counselor-guided therapeutic discussion. While seated in a circle, participants share with the group their current challenges and successes.
  2. Connection with others. Instructors gently guide conversation to underscore emotional safety and community, creating an oasis in the otherwise isolation of the typical jail environment.
  3. Hands-on activity scientifically proven to resolve trauma. Instructors guide participants in sewing and handwork, encouraging them to focus on projects meaningful to themselves.  Activities like these have been shown to increase calming brain chemicals such as oxytocin. The items the women create in class are put into their property for them to take home upon release.
  4. Learning effective life skills. Instructors and volunteers provide tools for learning specific life management skills. Participants are guided toward choosing positive life solutions to reduce stress and increase self esteem with courses such as yoga, mindfulness, stress reduction techniques and social skills.
  5. Trauma awareness. Almost all of the women we serve have undiagnosed and often untreated trauma that led them into the downward spiral of substance abuse and incarceration. Each class includes information and mindfulness exercises (like yoga, meditation, etc.) shown to decrease the aftereffects of post traumatic stress disorder.

 

How the program works:

  • Sentenced woman incarcerated in the Pinellas County Jail, with at least six weeks left on their sentence, are eligible to enroll in the Red Tent program.
  • The program allows for a total of 15 participants and consistently has a long waiting list. The Red Tent program is currently the best-attended program for women at the jail.
  • Women voluntarily enroll in the program. Once enrolled, participants may continue with the program until released.
  • Participants meet four hours a day, three times a week. Class composition changes as women arrive and leave the facility.

The Red Tent Women’s Initiative is a unique, comprehensive program providing hope, strength and support to Pinellas County’s incarcerated women.  Our program lifts up these women by showing them their intrinsic value and by providing a safe, caring sanctuary while implementing techniques to deal with unresolved trauma.

The Red Tent program in the jail has proven so effective that the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has supported its continuation since 2012.  The jail considers it one of their best programs in effecting positive change in the lives of these women.

The participants create crafts that represent their unique goals when they get out.

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.

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

The Red Tent program doesn’t end after women are released. We have an office at 535 Central Avenue in Saint Petersburg Florida, where we provide a case manager and resources to connect the women with the community once they are released.

Here are some of the messages the women share with Red Tent after their release:

  • Carey called 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 and 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.”
  • Jenny finally landed a job at a local hospital & sent a picture of her new employee badge.
  • Sylvie emailed 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.