Can You Dye Your Hair in Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: April 14, 2021

One thing I took for granted before going to prison was haircare and beauty products. I had always lived in a world where I could buy any kind of shampoo or conditioner I wanted to. I could also buy gel, pomade, and hairspray whenever I wanted, as well as any kind of ponytail holder, clip, or barrette. 

I never hesitated to treat myself to a day at the salon to get a good cut and color from my favorite stylist. I would always budget extra cash so I could buy at least one of the salon’s products that made my hair smell oh so good.

When I was sentenced to 30 years in prison (two 15-year sentences running concurrently), one of the first things I thought about was how I would be able to take care of hair and skin while behind bars. Would I be able to get a haircut? Would they allow me to color my hair and hide my grays? 

It wasn’t long before I got my answer because hair and beauty products are an important topic for just about every woman behind bars. So, let’s get to today’s post: can you dye your hair in prison?

In this blog post I will cover the following topics:

  • Do prisons have barber shops or salons?
  • What happens if you dye your hair?
  • Creative hair and beauty treatments in prison
  • Prison inmate grooming rules

Do prisons have barber shops or salons?

All prisons are different. There are differences between maximum and minimum security facilities, state and federal facilities, as well as men’s and women’s facilities. There are very few things that can be found at every correctional center. But – for the most part – you will find some kind of barber shop or salon at just about every prison in the United States.

Men’s prisons have barber shops where an inmate can get a cut with electric clippers. It’s never anything fancy, usually just a buzz cut.

If the prison doesn’t have a designated room or building for a barber shop, they will have barbers who will take their clippers from housing unit to housing unit and give cuts on a specific day of the month. They will also give cuts to inmates who are preparing to go to court.

When it comes to women’s prisons, one of the most common vocational programs offered in a correctional environment is cosmetology. This means that the prison will have a cosmetology school or “salon” on campus where inmates can make appointments.

At the prison where I was incarcerated, we had both a barber shop and a cosmetology school. At the barber shop, you could make an appointment with a licensed stylist. These were inmates who already had their license and who were given a job at the prison barber shop. The services were limited to a cut or a color. 

Because there were a limited number of stylists and chairs, getting an appointment at the barber shop would often take two or three months. But, you were guaranteed to get a cut from someone who was skilled and had the credentials.

The other option we had was to make an appointment at the cosmetology school. You could get in a lot faster because there were more students and chairs. But, the downside was that your appointment was with someone who was still learning. 

Services offered at the cosmo school included cut, color, scalp massage, manicure, pedicure, perm, and relaxer. 

Every inmate was allowed to get a haircut for free once every six months. However, if you wanted a color service, perm, or relaxer you had to pay. You also had to be violation free. Getting salon services was a privilege.

A color service, perm, or relaxer cost $7.50. But, if you had long hair you would have to buy two tickets for a total of $15.00. The manicures, pedicures, and scalp massages were free, but the only way you could get them was as a reward for being violation free for at least one year.

What happens if you dye your hair?

Yes, we were allowed to dye our hair in prison, but there were rules. First, the color options were limited. No crazy colors were allowed. You could choose basic brunette, black, blonde, or red. 

Obviously, if you were a brunette you couldn’t go blonde because those kinds of services were beyond what was offered at the prison cosmo school. You could go from brunette to red. But, if you did change your hair color significantly, you had to get approval from your case worker. And, you had to immediately get another photo ID with your updated look. 

Creative hair and beauty treatments in prison

Because the hair and beauty products we were allowed to buy from the commissary were extremely limited, the ladies got really creative when it came to hair and beauty treatments. I knew a girl who would use jelly and cocoa butter mixed together as hair gel. There was also a girl who would make a makeup foundation with lotion and coffee grounds.

Prison inmate grooming rules

Believe it or not, there are prison inmate grooming rules. If you are in the general population, you must wear clean clothes (whether prison-issued or items you bought at the commissary), always wear undergarments, have your hair brushed, and have your hands clean.

We were allowed to wear our hair down, in a ponytail, or in braids. Some girls would do cornrows because they are so easy to take care of. No matter how you fixed your hair, though, it always had to be brushed and neat. 

The rules are much different when you go to the hole. That’s where you get a shower once a week, but no guarantees of haircuts and colors.

Are you surprised you can dye your hair in prison? Let us know in the comments below.


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