All 20 men in a mock North Carolina prison barber shop wear crisp black smocks and polite smiles. It’s easy to imagine them draping customers, trimming sideburns and beards, making chit-chat about boxing and politics. The Raleigh News & Observer says that these men also carry memories of robberies and drug deals gone bad. The state’s only shave-and-a-haircut school is so popular that convicts from other prisons already want slots in the shiny new barber chairs. Classes run eight hours a day, five days a week, starting at 7:30 a.m.
“Barbering is one of those jobs that’s kind of recession-proof,” said Bill Tyson, a provost at Central Carolina Community College, which provides an instructor. “Everybody has to look good at some time.” It’s still a gamble. Roughly half of North Carolina prisoners released in fiscal 2004 were re-arrested within three years. Even if they go straight, these inmates will face skepticism — if not outright rejection. Every student has earned at least a GED. No one convicted of first-degree murder, rape, or another sex offense need apply, as it’s unlikely employers would see past the most heinous offenses. “Chances are, they’re not going to be barbers,” said Tresa Tomlinson, the prison’s assistant superintendent for programs.