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I love to get my hair done. There’s just something about going to the salon and dropping $200 to get a cut and color, plus some kind of product that I absolutely need so I can duplicate the look at home.
But all of that changed when I got to prison. Well, my love of going to the salon didn’t change, but my ability to do that wasn’t the same. It wasn’t long before my hair color was dull, my hair looked lifeless, and the gray hairs started to take over. It was depressing to see myself look that way, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. My hair was pulled back in a ponytail 95 percent of the time because there wasn’t really much else I could do with it.
So, that brings us to the main questions for this blog post: can you get haircuts in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
Believe it or not, prisons have very strict rules when it comes to personal grooming. You have to keep yourself clean and properly groomed because if you don’t, you can get a violation or, even worse, face the wrath of your fellow prisoners.
When it comes to your hair, the Federal Bureau of Prisons actually doesn’t have a rule about hair length. The rule states:
“The Warden may not restrict hair length if the inmate keeps it neat and clean. An inmate may have a shaved head or long hair.”
But, the states are starting to make changes because of problems with contraband. Some prisons and jails believe that inmates can hide contraband in their long hair, so they have implemented rules about hair length. And, that means that prisons have to have a barber shop or salon on site. So yes, you can get haircuts in prison.
Every prison has a barber shop or a room designated for haircuts. For federal prisons, the rule is:
“The Warden shall make available to an inmate hair care services which comply with applicable health and sanitation requirements. Where practical, hair is to be cut in a room or rooms specifically designated for that purpose. A multi-purpose area may be used where this is not practical. Hair cutting shall be done in an area that permits observation by staff. Equipment must be stored securely when not in use. A current inventory of hair cutting equipment shall be maintained.”
When I was in prison, you had to submit a request to get a barber shop appointment, and you were allowed to get an appointment every 90 days. The women that worked in the barber shop offered basic services like a haircut, color, and style, and they were all licensed. How is that possible, you ask? You would be surprised how many women in prison have their cosmetology license when they get locked up.
Getting a haircut or style was free, but to get a color, you had to pay. The process at WERDCC, where I was incarcerated, was that you would buy a “color ticket” on canteen, which costs $6.50. One color ticket was enough for short hair, but for long hair you needed to buy two tickets.
After you bought your color tickets you would schedule your appointment. Getting on the schedule usually took at least a couple of weeks, sometimes longer.
In addition to cutting inmates’ hair, the barber shop also offered free haircuts and shaves to guards, as well as boot shining services.
Some prisons with a higher security level will not allow their inmates to go to a barber shop, but they will have someone go into a housing unit with scissors and clippers and offer haircuts in a dayroom or all-purpose room where officers can watch and keep track of what is going on.
Many women’s prisons offer vocational training, and one of the courses offered is cosmetology. There were rules for who could take the cosmetology class because of the licensing requirements. You had to be within two to three years of your release date, and the class would last approximately 18-24 months (Some male prisons do have barbershop vocational training, too).
When you finish the class, you take the state exam for your license. The prison would schedule a day for everyone who finished the most recent class to be transported to an exam site where they would take the test together.
The reason you have to be within two to three years of your release date is because you will be getting your license at the end of the class. The purpose is for the inmate to have a current license that they can use to get a job when they are released. It wouldn’t make any sense for someone to take the class and get licensed, but still be in prison for another ten years.
For the few weeks or months, between getting licensed and getting released, the inmate can get a job in the barber shop if there is an opening.
The cool thing about having a cosmetology school inside prison walls was that they also offered services to inmates. If you didn’t want to wait for weeks to get into the barber shop, you could get an appointment at, “Cosmo,” which was basically the prison salon.
In addition to haircuts, color services, and styling, Cosmo also offered manicures, pedicures, chemical services like perms or relaxers, and scalp treatments. However, not everyone could make an appointment for those extra services.
The extra services were only available to you if you were at least six months violation-free, so you couldn’t get into trouble if you wanted to keep the gray out of your hair or get our nails done.
I should also mention the rules that go with the barbershops and salons. Because the workers are handling scissors, keeping track of inventory is vital. There are officers in both the barber shop and salon, and they keep watch over every activity. At the end of the day, all tools are counted and locked up, including brushes, combs, and clips.
The tools and products they use are also sub-standard, so it’s not like walking into a salon in the free world. However, the feeling I got after getting a haircut and color was just as good as the feeling I got in the free world, if not better. It was such a nice treat, and it made you feel like a normal human for a few minutes.
Are you surprised that prisons have barber shops and salons? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Grooming https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/5230_005.pdf What I’ve Learned Cutting Hair In Jail https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/08/25/what-i-ve-learned-cutting-hair-in-jail
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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