BENTON HARBOR — Imagine going to jail in the summer wearing a T-shirt and shorts and being released in the middle of winter wearing the same thing.

That’s the situation some inmates are in when they are released from jail or prison back to Berrien County, said Chief Public Defender Christopher Renna.

He said talks about this problem with Gwen Swanigan from the Society Harmonizing Against Racial Profiling (SHARP) Foundation in Benton Harbor led to the creation of Dress For Success, a program that helps former inmates obtain nice clothing to wear for job interviews at no cost.

“This is just one piece of a larger reentry piece that we’re working on,” he said. “... There’s simple things that people take for granted that are huge barriers for some people.”

Swanigan said that while Dress for Success clothes the former inmates, she will mentor them and help them get training so they can find jobs.

“We will help them transition out of the system and back into society,” she said.

Another partner is Mosaic Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), which houses the program at 38 W. Wall St., Benton Harbor.

Mosaic CEO Andrew Robinson said the Dress For Success program, which started in January, is another way to reach people who need help.

“The whole goal of this is really, how do we transform lives?” he said. “To me, transformed lives equal transformed communities. The only way we’re going to be able to see transformation in our communities is if we are able to touch one life at a time.”

Madge Porterfield, administrator for Dress For Success, said that in addition to clothing recently released inmates, they give clothes to people in jail so they can look nice when they go before the judge. People receiving clothing through the program must be referred by the public defender’s office.

Even though Dress For Success is in the same building as Mosaic Resale, she said it’s a totally separate program.

“Nothing gets sold in this program,” she said. “It’s all donated to the individuals to give them an opportunity to improve their lives, give them a good basis for looking the part as they go look for jobs and go before the judge.”

She said the support from the community during a May clothing drive was overwhelming and much appreciated. As winter approaches, she said they have a need for scarves, hats, socks and T-shirts.

For more information or to help, call Porterfield at Mosaic CCDA, 932-3557, or Swanigan at SHARP Foundation, 888-1551. 

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege