Suit drive helps ex-convicts seeking employment

Photo provided by Elain Ellerbe -- Michael Ellerbe (who passed away this year) adjusts the suit of R. Scott at Dixon Correctional Institute.
Photo provided by Elain Ellerbe -- Michael Ellerbe (who passed away this year) adjusts the suit of R. Scott at Dixon Correctional Institute.

By Kimberely Noble

Special to The Advocate

Providing effective strategies to help keep ex-convicts from returning to prison starts with a suit.

A suit that becomes part of the National Suit Drive, an annual program started in 2008 through the collective efforts of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Refined By Fire Ministries Inc. and Men’s Wearhouse.

The program provides suits to convicts, both male and female, in an effort to increase their chances of finding employment.

Elain Ellerbe, president and CEO of Refined by Fire Ministries Inc., and her late husband, Michael Ellerbe, a corrections official, helped initiate the program.

“So many people get out of prison with nothing,” Elain Ellerbe said. “They don’t have a decent pair of clothes to go to work or even to church.”

Michael Wynne, district manager of the state Office of Probation and Parole in Alexandria, said many in the public do not understand the importance of supplying inmates with good clothes. Offenders released from jail often have no presentable clothes and some have no assistance from family. That lessens their chances of acquiring employment. And the lack of a job can lead to an ex-convict becoming a convict again.

The drive takes place throughout the month of July. Gently used and cleaned suits, dress shirts, jackets, dress skirts, outerwear, ties, belts and shoes can be donated to any Men’s Wearhouse in Louisiana. The suits are distributed to prisons in the state to help the more than 15,000 people released each year.

Wynne acknowledges that some return to prison regardless and that acquiring a high-level job is more difficult for a person with a criminal background.

Programs such as Refined By Fire Ministries Inc., a nonprofit based near Zachary, and Re-Entry Solutions, a nonprofit based in Alexandria, instruct inmates on life skills such as money management, family and marital counseling, and interviewing. A set of clothing, however, helps the inmates start their journey more confidently.

Steven Cook, vice president of community relations and corporate giving for Men’s Wearhouse, said not every inmate gets a suit. He said they give suits only to those inmates who go through counseling programs “and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re ready to go out on interviews.”

Michael and Elain Ellerbe were inducted into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame on July 12 for their contributions to the prison system for more than 25 years. Michael Ellerbe, who died in May, had served as director of pre-release at Dixon Correctional Institute.

For more information on Refined By Fire Ministries and the suit donation program, log onto http://www.rbf.la/.