Cabinet-making. Landscaping. Industrial maintenance. Earning a high school equivalency diploma. These are standard-issue classes for prison vocational training.
But for more than 20 years, the all-male population at Turney Center Industrial Prison has also had the option to study cosmetology. Hair, nails and makeup —it’s all included. Last week, the prison held a fashion show for inmates to display their skills.
Instructor Phyllis Taylor, who has spearheaded the program since it began in 1989, is proud of her successes.
“I’ve got of bunch of mine that’s on the street that’s got their instructor license and are teaching,” she said. “A lot of mine that goes through here, not a lot of them come back. It’s a great program. It’s really done good.”
Recidivism studies show that job skills help inmates succeed when they are released. In one study of more than 3,000 prisoners, reincarceration was 29 percent lower among education program participants than among nonparticipants.
Gabriel Savey, a Turney Center inmate, said the program opened his creative mind.
“I am now a value to my community; before, I was selling dope and essentially was in the way,” he said. “The cosmetology program saved my life.”
Any of the 1,500 inmates at the medium-security Turney Center, about an hour west of Nashville, can enroll in the program.
“We take them all, even lifers,” Taylor said, referring those who are serving life sentences. “Even if they get life, if they go somewhere else, they can work as a barber or cosmetologist.”
Students must spend 15 to 18 months working six-hour days to earn the 1,500 hours of credit the state of Tennessee requires for a cosmetology license.
“To get an instructor license, I take them a little further,” she said, noting it takes an extra 300 hours to become certified. “
The classes are quite popular, too. Taylor said she stays close to state limit of 20 students per instructor.
“I’ve got all the files on everyone that been through here so I’ve got quite a few,” Taylor said. “They’ve done real good with it.”