Most inmates leave Louisiana prisons in a state-issued T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.
Richard A. Scott Jr., of Covington, will be a little more smartly dressed when he walks out of Dixon Correctional Institute near Jackson at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Scott, 24, recently received a “gently used” business suit through a clothing drive coordinated by the state, Refined by Fire Ministries and Men’s Wearhouse.
After serving five years on a burglary conviction, Scott said he can’t wait for his mother to see him in a suit for the first time since a relative’s funeral in 2005.
He said he plans to wear the suit on job interviews as he works toward his goal of one day owning his own auto mechanic shop.
The suit is a little big on Scott, but he smiled as he modeled it Thursday at Dixon.
“I know that looks ain’t everything,” he said. “The part that the suit plays is it helps me get a job.”
For the fourth year, Men’s Wearhouse outlets across the state are collecting suits, slacks, dress shoes, outerwear, sports coats, dress shirts, sportswear, ties and other accessories to clothe men and women leaving prison.
The drive began Aug. 1 and runs until Aug. 31. Those donating clothes will receive a 50 percent off coupon for Men’s Wearhouse purchases.
Michael Ellerbe, director of pre-release at Dixon, said he noticed the clothing drive while shopping at Men’s Wearhouse a few years ago.
He said he approached the clothing chain about donating the items to correctional centers. Prior to Ellerbe’s request, the clothing had gone to nonprofit organizations benefiting the homeless and others in need.
“There are a lot of guys who’ve never owned a suit. The biggest thing for me with this is it offers hope,” Ellerbe said.
With a suit on, the inmates take on the look of someone who has been rehabilitated, he said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has been focusing on reducing the rate of inmates who return to prison. The repeat incarcerations are called recidivism.
Efforts to keep inmates from returning to prison include:
• A focus on anger management, employment skills, job placement and other areas.
• Annual job and resource fairs.
• Offenders receive referrals, two forms of identification and, if needed, two weeks of medication before their release from prison.
• The establishment of three regional re-entry programs to ease the transition from incarceration.
• The opening of two-day reporting centers for offenders in danger of returning to prison for failing drug screenings, missing curfew or other violations.
State Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said in a prepared statement that the goal is to make “the transition from incarceration back to the community as smooth as possible.”
Scott said he plans to pursue a catering job and to enroll in vocational school within the next six months.
Refined by Fire Ministries CEO Elain Ellerbe, who is married to Michael Ellerbe, said her organization is serving as a conduit for the donated clothing so the contributors can receive a tax receipt.
“After these individuals spend so many of their years in blue jeans, chambray shirts or prison jumpsuits, having a suit of nice clothing to leave the prison (in) is one way of starting their new life,” Elain Ellerbe said.
She said programs such as the suit drive don’t let offenders off the hook for their crimes. She said these types of programs are needed to model to them the right way to approach life.
Michael Ellerbe, who did prison ministry for 17 years, said offenders can carry their suit with them or wear it out the prison gates.
“I will be wearing it out the door,” Scott said.