Program teaches those facing parole hearings how to integrate into society
By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Juvenile offenders recently gathered in a small classroom at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility to get a boost of self-confidence as they approach an important date. Within 90 days, each of them will face their parole consideration hearings, determining whether they stay at the facility or return to their communities.
The help comes in the form of a program called Successfully Dressed, which is designed to teach the juveniles how to look good, feel confident and carry themselves in a way meant to impress.
“This is my A-team, the elite,” said Michael Houston, Parole Agent and instructor of the Successfully Dressed program at O.H. Close. “Not only are we preparing these young men for the Parole Board, we are also preparing them for success upon reintegrating into mainstream society.”
He said getting into the program isn’t easy.
“Youth who participate in this program must complete an application, write an essay, sign a no-violence contract and receive two endorsements from their treatment team and undergo a face-to-face interview prior to selection for participation,” Agent Houston said.
They also want to look sharp. After reciting “See it Through,” a poem by Edgar Guest, the youth try on their suits and the rest of the ensemble for the first time.
Felix, a youth offender, chose his suit for a reason.
“This suit says a lot about the person,” he said. “I liked this one, and I knew when I saw it and tried it on, it was for me.”
Each juvenile offender gets one suit, which were all donated. Most come from the staff at O.H. Close, family members or others in the community who found out about the Successfully Dressed program, and wanted to help.
“We’re all close to getting out,” said Alexis, another offender in the program. “This suit helps us get ready for boards, a job interview, a job, or any other endeavor on the outside where we need to look like a professional.”
Agent Houston said the class exposes the juvenile offenders to grooming, hygiene and professional styles of dress.
“The issue of self-image is a challenge for youth who have been incarcerated as teens and who leave incarceration as adults,” he said. “Successfully Dressed gives youth a visual experience of themselves as fashionably pro-social and competent for the adult working world.”
The youth attended class twice a week for 16 weeks, and will soon be graduating.
Felix was recently found suitable for parole.
“I felt more alive, energetic for my boards,” he said. “The suit brought me up, and made me more confident. They told me at the board hearing that I looked, and sounded professional, that made me feel good.”
Felix reminds the group that it’s not just the suit; it’s making sure the shoes don’t have scuff marks, all buttons are buttoned, and the tie is lined up and in place. He also reminds them that they have to keep their heads up, look the other person in the eye, sit up straight and be enthusiastic.
Another youth said he appreciated his new look.
“I feel like I can be accepted and respected in society instead of being avoided as a gang member,” he said. “After a life of carrying the labels for the bad choices I made, I feel born again. Now I’ve learned to tie a tie, and how clothes should fit, and you know what? That feels great.”