Prisoners Get Ready for Work with the “Clothes Closet”

By Tujauna S. White, Marketing Specialist, Michigan State Industries

You can say that Michigan State Industries (MSI) is part of a unique “Reentry Network.” A couple of years ago, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) realigned several departments and moved MSI into MDOC’s Office of Employment Readiness (OER). The move has paid dividends in many ways … most important, it gives MSI access to a “Reentry Network” that MSI and OER have built up over time to include partnerships
with non-profits outside of MDOC and the opportunity to create job fair programs.

The “Clothes Closet”
Julie DeRose, MDOC Prisoner Education Manager, recognized a need and stepped up to fill it. While MSI and OER were providing job skill training and other job placement educational opportunities to offenders, some of the “soft skills” were missing. For example, many ex-offenders had no idea what to wear to a job interview or what would be
considered “appropriate dress” for the workplace once they landed a post-release job. Additionally, ex-offenders most likely did not possess such clothing to begin with.

STRIVE Professional Dress Clothes

STRIVE clients show off their professional dress clothes obtained through the Clothes Closet.

MDOC turned to the non-profit organization, STRIVE which serves Flint, MI by providing a wide range of services including employment services and job placement. The program is comprised of a three-week workshop, job development services, and follow-up services. STRIVE’s threeweek workshop focuses on attitudinal and job readiness skills. Positive attitude and attitudinal changes that zero in on unwanted behaviors and create desirable ones such as, flexibility, honesty, attentiveness, and patience are taught. This focus is the central philosophy of the STRIVE approach. Creating and refining these positive attributes has substantial impact on placement and retention. MDOC has worked with STRIVE, contracting with them through grant funding to provide programming for prisoners reentering the city of Flint from the Saginaw Correctional Facility.

One thing that impressed Julie when she visited STRIVE was the requirement for all clients to dress professionally while they are attending classes or participating in any STRIVE activity. This set a great tone by requiring a level of professionalism and a work-like atmosphere. To help support individuals and ensure the dress code is maintained, STRIVE offers a “clothes closet” to clients. Julie thought that it would be a positive step to contribute to STRIVE’s efforts by having a professional clothing drive with donations coming from OER’s Prison Education Staff.

Coupled with STRIVE’s existing inventory of donated clothing, these additional donations from OER increased the clothing available to prisoners and ex-offenders, as well as other STRIVE clients.

STRIVE Dress Clothes

Dress shirts and ties await STRIVE clients in the Clothes Closet.

The Job Expo — A Unique Opportunity to Meet with Local Employers
In addition to the clothing drive, the MSI and OER hosted a Job Expo at the Ionia Bellamy Creek (IBC) Correctional Facility in Ionia, MI on July 28, 2010. The Job Expo gave  prisoners a unique opportunity to meet with local employers for a first-hand look into the world of work.

MSI operates industries within the IBC facility producing signs, and shoes, while OER offers vocational programs in building trades, custodial maintenance, and horticulture. Representatives from both MSI and OER met to identify local employers in these industries and invited them to speak to prisoners in a job expo setting. Prior to the Job Expo, prisoners were provided information on how to make a good impression during an interview, as well as how to highlight the skills they may have that employers may be looking for.

Providing prisoners an avenue to realize how skills and job training acquired on the inside will transfer to employment on the outside allows them to see how their efforts now are relevant to their success upon reentry.

For the Job Expo, MSI and OER collaborated with the following local employers, making the Job Expo a huge success:
• Slagter Construction
• Lansing Sanitary Supply
• Steve Weber Plumbing
• Schafer Heating
• Dana McClean Electric
• Albin Hengesbach Construction
• Grand Rapids Community College
• Eagle Vision
• Capital Area Michigan Prisioner Reentry Initiative