SAN ANTONIO -- A former gang member and ex-convict has turned his life around. He is now helping at risk teens make better choices.
Walter Perry dresses for success with his sharp suit, shiny tie and leather shoes.
Most days, you can find him helping others look for the perfect suit, but he's no retail salesman.
He's a convicted criminal who has turned his life around.
"I had a tough upbringing. I grew up selling drugs. I was around drugs, and I was around violence," said Perry.
Those hard days are behind the 40-year old. He recently left a budding career in community development to focus on Suit Up, a program he started to help at risk teens by dressing them for success.
"This [suit] is your armor. What are you going to do with this armor? You're going to do great things with your armor," he said.
Walter's story started many years ago on the city's eastside where he grew up.
"Gangs were really bad. I got shot at for wearing the wrong colors." said Walter.
At the age of 17, Walter landed in jail, convicted of aggravated robbery.
Walter was released from prison 7 years later and found a truck driving job but soon his past caught up with him.
He lost his job, and he said no one was hiring convicted felons.
"I ended up broke. I couldn't find work. I went through my savings," said Walter.
Walter found himself homeless, divorced and unemployed.
"I have to be honest with you. I had thoughts about going back, but I didn't. Luckily, I had people who fed me and gave clothes," he said.
Instead of turning back to a life of crime, he signed up for classes at St. Philip's College.
There, he met his mentor who gave him an unforgettable gift.
"He bought me a suit off the rack. I cried because no one has ever given me anything like that. No one has ever said 'Hey, I believe in what you're doing.'"
Walter eventually got back on his feet, but he never got forgot the gift. It inspired him to create Suit Up, a community initiative to help at risk teen enter the workforce.
He collects new and gently used suits and gives them to students through a mentoring program.
"I believe in these kids. You just need to take the time to show them that you care. You don't have to go in the streets."
For more information on his organization, click here.
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