Tampa boutique gives formerly incarcerated women a boost of confidence, hope to move forward

In a nondescript house in West Tampa, a simple room will become a refuge for women. It’s a space big enough to house a whole boutique just like you'd find in any big city. 

Hillsborough House of Hope, a faith-based transition program for female inmates, just got a little boost: a boutique. It’s a good first step for those who just got out of jail.

"I'm just in awe, awe," said Linda Walker, director for the Hillsborough House of Hope. "I couldn't believe it, and I can just imagine how these women are going to feel when they come out of jail with nothing."

"They get to come around and get new clothes and jewelry and shoes and everything here," she added while looking around the boutique with a smile. 

A ribbon-cutting was recently held, but after, the shopping began. One of the women, who wants to reconnect with her children, shyly walked in. The boutique is the first stop after their release.

They call it the Dream Boutique. For Linda, it is a dream come true thanks to Brenda Greenway who offered up space in her home to make it happen.

"She allowed us to come in and paint the walls, put in new flooring, and have the young lady to fly down from Atlanta and bring all the clothes and all the racks and make it look as beautiful as it looks," Linda gushed.

That young lady is Reilley Chamblin, and it was a gift from a place called Free Fabrik. 

On opening day, Reilley showed the women around the oversized room, telling them they can take eight items and come back twice a month. 

"Pick whatever you want," she said while showing off a few pieces of clothing. "Everything is free to take home."  

They can make the whole outfit -- top to bottom. Soon, these women will need to think about job interviews and a place to live once they graduate from the House of Hope. The dozen or so women who stay at the house get the same chance to shop. 

It started with one gift and led to so many more. 

"[Free Fabrik] connected and said someone had made the donation for them to come open up a boutique for the Hillsborough House of Hope," Linda said.

A company called Catalina made the connection between the two. 

For Walker, watching her mission of love grow is a personal reward. She has been through the exact same challenges as these women. That was many years ago.

"I love to give back to them what has been given to me," she said. 

After they shop, Brenda and Linda do a devotion with the women and then they start to move on -- together.

Even as Linda looks around, she can't believe it. And the cost? 

"Nothing," she said while grinning. "Absolutely zero. Free clothes, free shoes, stuff for work, stuff for church, stuff for lounging."

She does these all over the country with Free Fabrik. This one will stand out. She's just getting started in the world. So, to see women lift other women up, it's a chance for her to see the gift that comes with that.

"It's like the most incredible experience because they feel so much more confident than when they left. It makes me so happy to show God's love that I experienced and bring that to these women," she said smiling.

Linda Walker has an event coming up Saturday, May 1 promoting her new book "Boundaries Anew." It talks about her personal struggles and how Hillsborough House of Hope helped her start over. 

It will be held at the Franciscan Center in Tampa from noon to 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 and you can sign up on the EventBrite website

You can learn more about Hillsborough House of Hope through the organization's website.

Fabrik in South Tampa accepts donations. Additional information can be found on their website.