- ABOUT US -
- TRANSFORMING ONE WOMAN AT A TIME -
Our DreamWeave Story
American women in jail and prison need hope. And job skills. DreamWeave aspires to bring both to incarcerated women so they can build their dreams. Through our non-profit social enterprise organization that is affiliated with Family Reconciliation Center, we are working inside the Davidson County, Tennessee, jail with incarcerated women who have joined us as DreamWeavers. We take reusable paper products and teach these women to hand-craft beautifully woven handbags. Each Dreamweaver writes her personal life story and an inspirational quote. These are printed on a tag with her photo and placed on each purse. They also write a personal life dream and weave it into each purse. The result is a purse that truly captures the essence of the woman who created it. The DreamWeavers spend up to 13 hours weekly in an uplifting work environment with our trainers — our co-founders as well as formerly incarcerated women who serve as role models. The DreamWeavers earn a commission for each completed purse. They will also being given the opportunity to participate in Aftercare services that include free counseling upon release. These women may choose to continue creating purses for DreamWeave upon release, earning an even higher commission and being supplied with all of the materials needed to cut, weave and sew the purses.
DreamWeave began serving in the Correctional Development Center jail in November 2015. We typically work with 10-15 women at a time in the jail. Each woman spends an average of 25-60 hours creating a single purse. The process includes cutting hundreds of pieces of paper and cellophane lining, folding and weaving them together and then sewing the entire purse. Outside the jail, the DreamWeave team hand-cuts high quality leather and fastens them to the purses. We also deconstruct donated purse chains, using them as accents and as straps.
Our mission is to empower women, whom society too often neglects and views as unworthy, to become entrepreneurial dreamers and re-builders of their lives. Our goal is to offer DreamWeave in any prison or jail around the country.
By supporting DreamWeave, you will help transform women’s lives. One bag at a time.
How It All Began:
Our co-founder, Louise Grant, was a communications executive for a national corrections management provider based in Nashville, Tennessee. Her personal passion outside of work for many years has focused on voluntarily mentoring females in the Tennessee Prison for Women, organizing music inspirational prison and jail concerts, and creating curriculum and teaching in Nashville female prisons, jails and halfway houses.
At a local detention facility in 2012, she observed that a few women were creating small handbags from recycled snack bags bought from the prison store. The purses were beautiful and worthy of greater attention. She began donating the small supplies for the crafts program, including yarn, scrapbook cutters and dental floss sticks. She also arranged for students in a Prison Life class at Vanderbilt University to provide recycled bags from campus.
As the beautifully-unique purses were crafted, she learned that the women were very proud of their work. She knew from her prison teaching experience that finding beauty within the bareness of prisons is important for women to sustain hope as they let go of shame and guilt, focus on accountability for their actions, and seek ways to become the women, mothers, daughters, wives or partners they long to be.
The crafted handbags, woven and sewn with attentiveness and care, mirrored the uniqueness of each woman. In a sense, they were symbolic of the women themselves: products seemingly viewed as without value were now being transformed into creations of beauty and usefulness. Louise furthered the art program by arranging the donation of the handbags to Mending Hearts, a female residential re-entry center in Nashville, which, in turn, gave the purses to the women in their program. With the craft program, women were supporting women, daring them to dream of a better life – not just one free from the restraints of physical bars, but also free from the emotional bondage that has left these women feeling unworthy.
Possessing a direct understanding of America’s correctional system, Louise knew the misperceptions and ugly labels placed on females in incarceration. In the consciousness of the general public, incarcerated women are simply forgotten. There’s little thought about who each woman is. In America today, there are nearly 250,000 women incarcerated. The majority are mothers. As many as 70 percent have faced alcohol and drug addiction. A good percentage have experienced severe trauma, including sexual abuse and victimization. Their crimes typically are non-violent and are related to drug charges. Upon release, they struggle to find employment because of their felony record.
Louise also knew that there is a surprising amount of joy, hope and beauty behind the bars and the razor wire. The women support one another as family. The correctional officers and counselors focus not just on safety but also on re-entry into society. The women find meaning where they can, taking education and substance use disorder classes, attending worship services and hope-filled programs led by volunteers. They search for expressive and purposeful ways to fill the long hours and years of their sentences. Through classes, writing, artwork, exercise and self-understanding, they find ways to feel peace and aspire for new beginnings.
Louise is a 28-year Communications Executive with 14 years in corrections leadership; She is also a female inmate mentor and teacher.
Malinda has over 15 years of experience counseling inmates & families impacted by incarceration. She is the Executive Director of Family Reconciliation Center.
Sherry is Senior Pastor at West Nashville/St. John’s United Methodist Church; She is a speaker, singer/songwriter and author.
When our co-founder, Louise Grant, left her career at a prison management company in early 2015, she was inspired to create DreamWeave to take this simple prison art hobby class and turn it into a business model. She presented the idea to business associate, Dr. Malinda Davenport-Crisp. Malinda is a licensed counselor and Executive Director of Family Reconciliation Center, a Nashville non-profit that counsels spouses and children of the incarcerated and provides counseling to incarcerated women and men. Malinda included Rev. Sherry Cothran, Senior Pastor of West Nashville/St. John’s United Methodist Church, author and former lead singer of the rock band, the Evinrudes. Both Sherry and Malinda desired to create a micro-loan initiative and build a social enterprise campus where under-served female entrepreneurs could come together with female mentors to build their dreams for new, independent living. For some of these women, it would mean emerging from hopelessness into healing and happiness.
Malinda and Sherry knew that DreamWeave could be the start for their entrepreneurial vision.
For the women of DreamWeave, it’s all about women empowering women. Together, we can transform our lives and realize the inner worth, beauty and purpose that is within each of us, as is our birthright.
Where We Go From Here:
DreamWeave continues to refine the design and style of our purses to produce handbags that are en vogue and can be worn with pride by women around the country.
We seek to have a strong support base of volunteers who want to serve alongside us in the jail, working directly with these DreamWeavers as they learn a craft and dare to dream of new beginnings. We also seek volunteers who can help us source paper materials, prep the materials for the weaving and even help us with post-production for strap-making. Contact us if you have a heart to serve.
- Meet our DreamWeave Employees -
A Dreamweave first employee, revovered addict and mother of two
“I live each day knowing that you have to keep your faith and hope to move onto the next step in life.“
Amanda, while incarcerated herself, learned to create purses out of chip bags. She was hired as DreamWeave’s first employee and is the foundation of the organization. She is the primary trainer inside the jail, with co-founder Louise Grant. Amanda and Louise spend nearly 12 hours weekly with the incarcerated DreamWeavers. In addition to teaching the skilled craft of handbag-artistry, Amanda also serves as a role model to the DreamWeavers. She understands their life path because she also experienced something similar. As a recovered addict and mother, she is living a new and fulfilling life. The incarcerated DreamWeavers, and those who are released and remain on the DreamWeave team, have deep bonds of trust and friendship with Amanda.
Here is Amanda’s story:
“I had a great childhood with both parents and attended Christian school. But I started taking pills and smoking weed with people I shouldn’t have been around. In college, things were hectic, so to stay up at night for studies, I started taking pills. Then I got pregnant, had two kids and never finished college. I was hooked on pills really bad for almost ten years. I worked two jobs and tried to care for my kids. I was hanging around the wrong people and was in a car and did a robbery. I spent four years in jail.
In jail when I heard stories of women who turned their lives around, it made me want to change and do the right thing in life. I started weaving the purses as a hobby in jail. It’s an incentive to do right in jail, and now we’ve brought it out in the free world. We’re going into the jail to teach women, and it’s just amazing. When I got out in 2015, I hooked up with the right people and mentors, and now my life is taking off.”
“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life”. Arthur Ashe
Rebekah Elliott was raised in her hometown of Brentwood, Tennessee. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University (2015) with a degree in Political Science and a member of Crosspoint, a nondenominational church. She joined The Family Reconciliation Center this spring (2016) as the Program Coordinator of DreamWeave. She originally became interested in corrections when she did an internship with the Williamson County Juvenile Detention Center in 2011. She is passionate about giving incarcerated women a voice and validation as well as equipping them with the skills to be successful. She volunteered with us before she was selected as the perfect fit for this new position with DreamWeave. She believes this job will give her guidance for her future professional and educational goals. She enjoys sewing, spending time with friends, and cuddling with her Terrier, Belle.
- Read about our partners -
DreamWeave is extremely grateful for the supportive partnership with the Davidson County (TN) Sheriff’s Office. They are committed to providing strong re-entry based programs to help facilitate healing and new possibilities in life.
We also greatly value our collaborative partnerships with these and other organizations: St. George’s Episcopal Church, Joe C. Davis Foundation, Winco Productions, Goodwill Industries, Belmont University, L&R Printing, Emil Erwin, ThriftSmart, United Methodist Publishing House, St. John’s United Methodist Church, McNeely, Pigott & Fox, and Web on MissionPartners