Two men recently released from prison after serving more than 40 years for a wrongful conviction received makeovers at a Bridgeport studio.
Jimmy Soto and David Ayala met with smiles with stylists from the “I Am a Gentleman” organization Tuesday as they prepared to fit into costumes.
Both men were wrongly convicted of a 1981 murder and spent 42 years in prison. No physical evidence ever linked either man to the crime, and neither man confessed to any involvement in the murders. On Dec. 14, the men were released following what is believed to be the longest wrongful conviction in state history.
“We’re not bitter, we’re not angry,” said David Ayala, now 60.
On Tuesday, Jermaine Anderson, the executive director of “I Am a Gentleman,” invited the two men into the studio to go shopping and get fitted for free suits as they prepare to re-enter the workforce and the Company.
“You have to dress the way you want to be addressed,” Anderson told NBC 5. “We’re going to make sure they receive professional attire, including a suite, a tie, and even shoes if they need it, then when they go to that job interview, they’re ready.
Ayala chose a gray suit, light blue shirt and purple tie. Soto wore a navy suit and a pink and blue striped tie.
“I feel like a gentleman,” Soto said. “It makes me feel human. Being able to look the part.
While in prison, Soto earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University’s prison education program, took the LSAT and plans to attend law school. He has a job lined up at the university to work in the program.
“I’m determined to do this to help another Jimmy Soto, another David Ayala. There are so many in the system, if I can help a few, I think I’ve returned the favor,” he said.
Ayala says he didn’t have the same opportunities during his time in prison, but he says he knows the importance of hard work and wants to join the workforce.
“I have learned in life that there are no easy shortcuts. The best personal satisfaction is honest work,” he said. “I don’t know what will be available to me, but we have been exonerated, so I hope people will be open-minded.”
Project Gentleman is funded by corporate partners and community donations. You can call to communicate with them at 312-4715-590