Cook County Jail's barber school gives inmates a second chance

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A barber training program at the Cook County Jail in Chicago is giving men and woman new opportunities with a trim, cut and chance to fade away the past.

Larry Roberts Jr. started the jail program in 2010 as a way to build a better community.

"I really wanted to create some alternatives to violence. I think we're so prone to thinking about the negativity and all the things that are going on outside. You know it's hard for the guys to get a job once they are out of jail. So I figured why not come to the jail and give them the training and the trade while they are locked up so that way they could go straight to work," said Roberts, who founded and owns Larry's Barber College.

The jail program is like any other barber school on the outside. Students learn and practice their trade on other inmates to complete the 1,500-hour program and become a certified barber.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said people like Roberts and free programs like this gives men and women a new purpose in life.

"Majority of the people in here if there is a job opportunity for them on the outside they will either not get involved in the criminal justice system at all or they won't for quite some time. Either way it is a victory for the tax payers to have people now in the community working, they are vibrant members and helping their families," Dart said.

For those in the program, it's about more than learning to cut hair. It's also a support system and a chance to start over.

"This is more than just a barber college. I love these guys. I talked to them about everything and confide in them you can't find that everywhere and I'm in jail ... If I can do that in here shows you what I can do out there," said J.J., who is an inmate in the jail barber program.

"This college right here changed my life around. The things that I was doing wasn't so great. I did work and have a job but I just turned the other way and I wasn't supposed to do that," said another inmate named Joseph.

Both Joseph and J.J. have almost completed the course and hope to work in a shop one day, and even have their shops one day. Even though their future looks bright they want to make sure no one else makes the same mistakes.

"I would say that if you're passionate about doing something go all the way with it because the life of drugs and alcohol and gang banging is just not the life to live I've spent a lot of time behind these walls because of it," J.J. said.

Roberts is also making plans to expand this program to correctional facilities across the country.
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