View Full Version : Training at prison select, intense

06-21-2005, 10:25 AM

By John Fuquay

PEARL One of the state's top cosmetology schools has a waiting list to get in and a graduation rate that would be hard to top.

The school ranks second among the state's 43 such schools and is publicly supported.

However, admission to this program is highly discouraged to people on the outside.

Only women serving time for a felony conviction have a chance to be accepted in the cosmetology school inside the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.

"This is probably the most coveted program because the women who come out of here can make a good living," instructor Rachel Thornton said.

Of the women who get in, nearly all stay and complete the course only a couple have ever dropped out. Vocational director Pat Owen said, "They're not going to throw this opportunity away."

The school began in 1992 and has produced 73 cosmetologists since 1996. Thornton said about 4 percent of the graduates have wound up back in prison. The national average for recidivism over three years is 68 percent.

In a recent evaluation by the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology, the CMCF school finished first in practical exams, fourth in written exams and second in the overall score only one point out of first.

The state Cosmetology Board licenses hair stylists and manicurists to ensure safe and healthy conditions for consumers. Executive director Nelda Luckett said the board began recognizing schools based on tests scores in 2002. She said the prison school has received an award each year.

"I have never had any negative feedback whatsoever about the program, and, to my knowledge, there have not been any complaints filed against any of those who have acquired their license and been released," Luckett said.

The training is select and intensive. Of the prison's 1,450 women, Thornton said the program has room for 20 inmates. They spend six hours a day in class Monday through Friday. The 1,500-hour course takes about 18 months to complete.

The state Education Department pays the instructor's salary and provides equipment. Inmates must have a high school diploma or equivalent for admission.

Students, from their late teens to early 50s, work on mannequins with human hair, and they practice on each other. They learn cutting, curling, styling, drying, manicures and facials. They also learn computer skills to help them run a business.

"I've always loved to cut hair and fix hair, ever since I was 9," said Tysha Dent, 31, of Gulfport. "I just didn't have a license."

Dent was licensed in October and works in a salon for inmates. The former truck driver is serving a three-year sentence for violating probation on a drug charge. She is due for release in December.

"I already have a job lined up. I'm going to open a salon of my own, with some help," Dent said. "It's going to be the 'Truly Blessed Hair Salon,' because it's truly a blessing to me to have this license today."

CMCF also offers classes in computer repair, upholstery, industrial sewing, business technology and family dynamics.

"Ninety-five percent of all inmates are getting out," Corrections Commission Chris Epps said. "Since they're coming back to our neighborhoods, we want to turn them out in better shape than when they came in."