Sept. 9, 2004
A UMNS News Feature
By Shanta Bryant Gyan*
The women walking
into the quaint Montgomery, Ala., boutique are greeted by a personal
shopping assistant, who helps them select dresses, suits, shoes and
|A UMNS photo by Lyle Jackson
Shoppers at Kate's Closet receive makeovers to help build self-esteem.
"Do you prefer dresses or suits?" the assistant asks. "So you need some office wear?"
most people, shopping in a boutique is not unusual, but these shoppers
are actually prisoners - convicts. And they are "shopping" at Kate’s
Closet, a ministry of St. James United Methodist Church, in Montgomery.
Closet offers incarcerated women an opportunity to receive professional
clothes, donated by women in the community, in preparation for job
interviews after their release from prison.
the ladies walk into a job interview and they’re dressed well, they
know they look good, they feel good about how they look, and when you
have that self-confidence, it comes across in an interview," says Kim
Bullard, the ministry’s director.
Closet is named after Kate Richardson, an elegant African-American
woman who spoke to the women at St. James Church about Aid to Inmate
Mothers, a program that provides job training and life skills to help
women in prison make the transition to life outside prison.
testified about the difficult lives of women in prison and surprised
her listeners by sharing her personal story of once being incarcerated.
"There wasn’t a dry eye in the place," Bullard says.
After learning from
Richardson that many women in prison do not have basic toiletries, the
church women created baskets of shampoos, conditioners, toothbrushes and
toothpaste, and other items for the imprisoned women.
|A UMNS photo by Lyle Jackson
At Kate's Closet, prisoners can select six new outfits for use in interviews after their release.
Bullard and the women of St. James Church felt that more was needed to
support and build the self-esteem of women getting ready for the free
world, especially since most women leave prison without any clothing
other than what they wore into prison.
clothing closet kept coming to my mind," says Bullard, who has a
background in retail. "I felt the Lord putting this (idea) on my heart. I
knew I needed to lead it."
Kate’s Closet opened in June 2002 in a refurbished barn in the back of
the church. The ministry outgrew its space and relocated last August,
opening in a house designed to look like an upscale boutique.
month, by appointment, about 20 women from the local prison arrive at
Kate’s Closet to choose from a range of stylish clothes with the
assistance of a team of volunteers from the church. The ministry only
accepts donated clothes that the volunteers would wear themselves.
the help of a personal shopping assistant, the women can select up to
six different outfits and accessories to match their clothes, including
shoes, jewelry, pantyhose, and undergarments. After selecting her
clothes, each woman is treated to a makeover.
don’t judge them…we treat them like they’re a customer in
Bloomingdale’s," Bullard says. The shop is intended as a welcoming,
nonjudgmental environment for the women to shop in without fearing that
they will be peppered with questions about their past.
added that the women arrive at the boutique not knowing what to expect
and leave not only with new outfits but hope for the future.
are really nice ladies. This is a good place, for people like me that
have come out of prison," says Julie Watkins, 37, who has been
incarcerated for two years. "They treat you like you’re somebody instead
of somebody that’s done something wrong. So I take a good feeling from
here when I leave."
Sanchez, 51, says she plans to get an office job once she is released
from prison, and the clothes from Kate’s Closet are just what she needed
to start her new wardrobe.
like a dream come true for some people who have never been able to go
out and pick from the best of clothing," Sanchez says.
explains that coming to Kate’s Closet provides a head-to-toe experience
and lets women soon to be released from prison know that others care
Herring, 29, says the volunteers at Kate’s Closet inspired her to move
forward with her life. "We just felt very loved here today, and that’s
the kind of love that we haven’t had from the outside people for a while
because we’ve been incarcerated, you know."
hope is that they will leave here with an open heart," Bullard says,
"and that they will take their past and use it as a testimony for the
future but not something to fall back on - that they will continue to
*Gyan is a freelance writer in the Washington area.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.