Local Nonprofit ‘Dressing’ Former Inmates for Success

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  When Joe Harrison was 17, he made a huge mistake. 

“I committed my crime when I was 17 years old, so I was a juvenile. I went in 17 years old and I came out 37,” he said. 

Harrison spent almost 20 years repaying his debt to society, and when he got out, like many inmates, second chances were hard to come by.

“As it might be for a lot of people who are incarcerated, because a lot people don’t get the opportunity to have people take a chance on them,” said Harrison.

When he was released nine months ago, he had no job leads, no access to stable housing, and he was all but guaranteed to violate his probation and go back to jail. This is a common issue in Des Moines. Almost 60 percent of all black male offenders end up going back to jail.

“If we are talking about racial disparities, we haven’t talked much about that, you just multiply that by whatever the norm is,” said Dwight Jackson with Men on the Move.  

To put that in context, that’s almost double the rate of their white counterparts. Jackson thinks that is way too high, so in 2015 he started to dig into the problem to figure out what was happening. He quickly found many of these men were set up to fail.

“But they are at point zero, in terms of how do I start, where do I start? I’ve got housing issues, clothing issues, I’ve got employment issues,” said Jackson.

After meeting with several men looking to re-enter successfully, he found getting the first job was the biggest obstacle--so this is where he started.

“Before we did anything, people have to have the clothes to present themselves before they start looking for work,” said Jackson.

That’s how Men on the Move was born. Dwight started providing these men with suits, ties, and shoes, but maybe the biggest thing he gave them was confidence in themselves.

“I had a black suit, purple shirt, tie. I looked presentable. I probably looked the best there,” said Harrison.

“You’re gonna feel like, you know what, I’m worth this. I’m worth making an effort to improve my life and become more self sufficient,” said Jackson.

Along with the Evelyn K. Davis center, Men on the Move has helped almost 800 past inmates find stable careers. They clothed them, trained them, and--most importantly--supported them. 

“How do you want them to get out? They are going to get out. You’re not going to stop that. So it just makes sense to me that we look at, instead of spending an average of $33-$35,000 a year per inmate to house them, why not spend $5,000 to train them, where they become employable,” said Jackson. 

All of these me know it will always be easy to judge a book by its cover, but at least these books will look sharp when people do.  

“Yeah, I definitely think people deserve a second chance, but they gotta want a second chance,” said Richard Fisher of Men on the Move

The program has been so successful they've began the process of opening another facility.

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