DeKALB – They say to dress for the job you want, but that can be a challenge if you're newly released from prison with only the clothes on your back.
William Denwood is on a mission to level the playing field.
The Naperville resident began in November 2016, when Stateville Correctional Center sent out a request from its chaplain requesting clothes suitable for parolees going to job interviews. After learning that dry cleaners and laundry services, along with other clothes donation services, often have a surplus of suits, Denwood worked to get them to prison parolees.
He founded Suits for Success, which works with dry cleaners, launderers and church groups across the state to collect, clean and distribute suits for men and women in prison.
"They need to get a bit of their pride back," Denwood said.
If a prisoner is released from jail and can't find a job, they can end up returning to crime, Denwood said.
He said there is no shortage in finding clothes and donations, and in donations from the suburbs, he even finds designer clothes. But the clothes need to be cleaned before they can be distributed.
Denwood made a presentation to the Illinois Professional Drycleaners and Launderers trade association in March to try to get help in his endeavor.
One of the members is Greenacre Cleaners in DeKalb. Owner Tom Bartnett sits on the board of directors of IPDL and also is a past president of the association.
"When he approached us, we said we'd be happy to help out," Bartnett said.
So far, Greenacre has cleaned more than 1,200 suits for Suits for Success. Bartnett said all seven of the locations serve as drop spots for donations. The donations are cleaned and then sent to their Sugar Grove location, where they get picked up by Suits for Success.
It's a group effort, and Suits for Success helps at every Illinois prison.
"It's grown incredibly," Denwood said.
He works with groups from Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, as well as all six Roman Catholic diocese, he said.
He said contributing not only helps parolees but also helps the state. Illinois does not have the finances to clothe the prisoners it releases.
If a former prisoner can get a job, they can begin contributing again in the form of working and paying taxes.
"We're trying to break the cycle," Denwood said.