Into my 14th year volunteering at the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center, I thought I had seen it all, but last week an 18 year old resident charged with first degree murder came after me with a pair of sharp scissors. Not to worry, since Freddie is a student in the newly established STAR (Standing Tall Against Recidivism) Barber College at the Detention Center, and I volunteered to have him give me a haircut.
Admittedly, we were both a little nervous. This was only Freddie’s second week cutting hair, and his previous customers were African-Americans or Latinos who just needed their hairs lined up and trimmed. He didn’t know what to make of the full head of hair on this 63 year old white guy who had not changed his hairstyle in 40 years. Well, it turned out great, and I could tell that Freddie was very proud of his work. I was too. Other than their hot towel massage, Sports Clips has nothing on the STAR Barber College.
In the past, lack of productive programming was one of the major criticisms I had with the Detention Center operations. The facility served as a warehouse for the detained youth, with residents playing endless hands of the card game Spades, and watching daily episodes of Jerry Springer. The prior administration often emphasized that the Detention Center was “Temporary,” so there was little need to implement programs because of the short term duration of the residents’ stay. Tell that to the many juveniles charged as adults, since their stays often last one to two years as they await adjudication of their cases.
That lack of programming appears to be changing. There are now programs in storytelling, where youth write and perform in plays; classes in music composition and performance; a commercial painting program; and an excellent writing and poetry program. The recently established Barber College was a welcome addition, as evidenced by the fact that over 100 youth applied to participate, 20 were interviewed, and 8 were accepted into the first class, including 1 girl (there are only about a dozen females incarcerated at the Detention Center). The course is rigorous, with the students attending class 4 days a week, 5 hours a day. Those who complete the course can earn their State license, and go on to a successful career as a Barber.
I don’t know what Freddie’s long term future holds, but he can count on me as a repeat customer next month.
(Mike Donovan is volunteer staff person with PBMR)