Hillsborough Correctional Chef Holds onto Hope and a Prayer

Hillsborough Correctional Institution is Florida's only women's prison dedicated fully to a faith and character based program.
TAMPA (2012-2-23) -

Lawmakers and state officials are working on closing Hillsborough Correctional Institution and five other prisons as a “cost saving measure.” And a few inmates have reportedly been transferred. But at least one woman at the faith-and-character based prison continues to plan for the future of the HCI “community” of inmates, staff and volunteers.

Planning for the future is what Chef Rubye Tarrent emphasizes to her culinary class. She’s already preparing them for March and a celebration of Women’s History Month.

This month her two dozen culinary students prepared a Mardi Gras meal as a thank you for dozens of volunteers and some staff. The inmates decorated the dining hall with beads and brightly colored table cloths and served up a menu of chicken gumbo, brisket, red beans and rice, greens and king cake.

One of the HCI staff addressed the volunteers and told them to enjoy the meal because it could be their last hurrah. However, the pending state closure of HCI did not hang heavy over the celebration.

“We’re a great community,” Tarrent told the gathering. “We’re a great team and it’s not over until it’s over.”

Her optimism was greeted with applause and cheers. After the meal and clean-up, Tarrent also known as Chef T addressed her culinary students who sat quietly in their blue prison uniforms.

“Just look around, these are healed women, whole women and I say it to them all the time, even if we close, which we don’t believe, and they have to go somewhere, I’m not worried. The other people better watch out,” Chef T said which made her class laugh.

Chef T said the women from HCI are prepared and she believes where ever they may go they’ll make a difference. But, she’s still praying that HCI community will remain intact with its hundreds of volunteers, inmates and staff.

And with that, one of the volunteers led the class in a celebratory song of “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

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