Women leaving prison in Alabama walk out the door with ten dollars in their pocket, a bus ticket and little more than the clothes on their back. Most of them have no one to turn to, no means of survival and they feel alone and afraid. Kate Richardson works with Aid to Inmate Mothers (AIM) and is a former inmate herself. Marian “Kim” Bullard heard Richardson speak to the UMWIM group at St. James United Methodist Church in Montgomery and was inspired to encourage the women of her group to partner with AIM to create a clothes closet for newly released inmates.
Ms. Bullard was the catalyst in the final stages of making Kate’s Closet a reality. Bullard is a member of the Good News Board of Directors and the RENEW Network Steering Committee as well as the President of the UMWIM. She mobilized resources in the community and at the church so these women who had already paid their debt to society could receive assistance to get them started on a positive road for the rest of their life.
In June of 2002, Kate’s Closet was born, and it was more than a second-hand store. Ms. Bullard wanted it to be a nice place that the women felt welcomes since they have been through so much and are now being faced with many demands. Their goal has been to allow the women to have at least one hour to gain self-confidence and to find all the positive attributes that they each have within. Also during that time, they can pick out suitable clothing and hygiene products they were in need of. Kate’s Closet has trendy racks and cabinets and brightly painted walls. These extra touches give the converted barn the charm and class of a high-end mall boutique. The suits, dresses, shoes, purses and accessories are donated in excellent condition; some of the items still have price tags attached.
The shop is run exclusively by volunteers, and Ms. Bullard coordinates the volunteer schedules from the UMWIM group. Newly released inmates find unconditional love and acceptance at Kate’s Closet. They are welcomed with the same excitement you are welcomed in a high-class boutique. During their stay at Kate’s Closet, a makeup artist treats the women to a makeover and accessories to complete the six outfits with which each woman is provided. In addition, the women are able to select a wrapped basket of hygiene items, new undergarments and pantyhose.
When the women come to Kate’s Closet, Ms.Bullard does not quiz them about their past. Their questions center around the women’s favorite color and whether they prefer to select suits or dresses. This outreach to prison inmates has become a community effort, going beyond UMWIM. Two local television channels covered the grand opening of Kate’s Closet. Ms. Bullard solicits many women in the area to donate to Kate’s Closet. She has even received support and assistance from the Junior League with this project.
After leaving Kate’s Closet, the women are then assisted by AIM to secure employment and housing and to provide essential supportive counseling for one year after release. “ Women come in to get something to wear, but they leave with hope.” Ms. Bullard has not only impacted the women who are released from Julia Tutwiler Prison in Alabama, but because of her efforts and those of the other volunteers, Kate’s Closet has become a model for other communities to replicate.