By Lt. Gregory Bergersen, PIO Valley State Prison
As Valley State Prison (VSP) was switched to a male institution, its staff kept the focus on rehabilitation, including keeping the cosmetology course.
In October 2012, VSP began its historic conversion from a multi-level female offender institution to a low- to medium -security male facility.
Although the population went from female to male, the mindset of VSP staff did not change. VSP has always put emphasis on inmate program and rehabilitative services.
When the institution housed female offenders, there were more than 26 self-help programs.
As the female prison inmate population declined dramatically, due, in part, to Public Safety Realignment (AB109), the decision was made to convert VSPW to a male facility. On Jan. 21, the conversion was completed.
As the first male inmates arrived at VSP, there was an air of optimism and the sense of a renewal. During the first Inmate Activity Council meeting with intern members, the inmate participants commented about how the staff “talk to us.” The inmate group indicated that the staff were very attentive and spoke to them with a great deal of respect.
Warden Ron Davis told the group that VSP has highly trained staff with outstanding communication skills. He further emphasized the high importance VSP places on inmate programs and assured the inmate group that the population will have several opportunities to seek true rehabilitative services and work skills.
One program that VSP offers is Vocational Cosmetology. This program was very popular with the female offenders, but was considered experimental with the new male population. Once word of it got out, however, several inmates requested the two-year vocational program.
“This program offers great opportunities for sustainable employment,” Warden Davis said. “The Vocational Cosmetology program is not easy to complete and requires dedication and determination, but those inmates who put forth the effort will be able to gain a valuable state-certified license and meaningful employment upon parole.”
The program now has more than 17 inmate students and an inmate teacher’s aide who is a licensed cosmetologist.
Inmate Christopher Clay owns two beauty salons, one in Moreno Valley and the other in Las Vegas. Inmate Clay is highly motivated about his position as the teacher’s assistant and considers the success of the program a personal challenge.
“This program is motivational for me,” inmate Garnette Reid said. “I feel that I am learning a skill that I can take to the streets and use to support my family.”
The class is currently working on how to greet customers and fill out client cards, along with using flat irons, coloring, conditioning, cutting hair and how to examine and reconstruct hair.
“I am so glad they decided to move forward with this program,” Vocational Instructor Carmen Shehorn said. “My objective is to get as many of this first group licensed as we can and to get them on a pathway for success.”
Each student must complete 100 hours of classroom study and 300 hours of student application before they can work on volunteer clients. The course generally takes two years in a correctional setting.
“I enjoy coming to class. You leave an area that can be negative and come to a classroom that is positive and challenging,” inmate Pete Alvarez said.
The Vocational Cosmetology program will continue to participate in a longstanding tradition at VSP, the Locks of Love program.
The Locks of Love program allows inmates to donate their hair, which is used to make hairpieces for children with diseases that cause hair loss. The program was a huge success with the female offenders, and Ms. Shehorn hopes it will resonate with the male population.
“We have already had one inmate donate his hair, and we hope to get several more during the campaign,” she said.
The Locks of Love campaign will begin in April.