Sitting Pretty: Vocational Prison Education Preps for Life After Prison

Sitting Pretty: Vocational Prison Education Preps for Life After Prison

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, California, has a beauty salon. It started as a vocational prison education program in 1996 when the facility was for women only. Although it’s a men’s prison now, the salon, and the esthetician program, remain in place. It’s a unique way of learning job skills in the prison system, and it’s paying off big time.

The Chowchilla facility offers training and services in every typical application you’d expect from a traditional salon. Inmates can get their hair colored, get waxed, and learn how to apply makeup and do facials. Clients are other inmates and prison staff. Students take 1,600 hours of instruction before taking a licensing exam from the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. Some of the graduates who have been released work in salons, and some students discuss opening a shop with their fellow inmates.

Chowchilla isn’t the only prison with a salon. Mabel Bassett in Oklahoma, Rikers Island in New York City, and Coffee Creek in Oregon have similar vocational prison education programs.

While learning valuable job skills that can be put into a good-paying career is a massive draw of prison salon programs, the benefits extend far beyond that. For example:

  • Confidence: How do you feel when you have a bad hair day? Not so great. How you look has a significant impact on how you feel about yourself. Something as simple as a bad hair day or skin breakout can ruin your entire day. In prison, access to cosmetics and hair treatments is limited, affecting how the inmates feel about themselves. A little pampering, hair coloring, and a facial go a long way. An inmate who feels good and has confidence is likelier to participate in groups and other team/educational sessions and tends to be less disruptive in the prison environment.
  • Touch: Touching is discouraged in prison, but human contact is significant because it makes us feel connected and safe and reduces stress. Many inmates have not experienced gentle or appropriate touching and, in turn, are aggressive themselves. Applying hair treatments, massage, facials, and manicures in a salon environment require gentle, appropriate touching. The salon can redefine how inmates perceive the act of the human touch.
  • Entrepreneurship: A salon is one of those business ideas that can start with a few products and modifications to a basement and grow into a standalone business or even a chain. The potential is endless: the inmate could use their skills to support their family part-time or create a company that hires others and grows the economy. It’s also a job that requires ongoing training, further increasing the inmate’s skills long after leaving prison. (Of course, additional training means more money and confidence as the business grows too.)

When we think of vocational prison education programs, we often think of soft life skills, GED, or college programs. However, prison education is not limited to traditional means. It encompasses everything and anything that adds to the inmate’s ability to learn something that will help them prosper on the outside. Vocational salon training provides a pretty solution that has long-reaching benefits for the inmates and their present and future clients.