The barber in jail

How did you get the job?

There was a meeting of the Hairdresser Association and I met an officer who called me a few months later and said “You must help me. In one of the prisons we haven’t had a hairdresser for months and we can’t find anyone. Can you send someone?”

I asked my colleagues, they didn’t want to go. So I called the prison and after we had negotiated the payment, I started to work there.

At first I went to the prison to cut hair for three days a week but there were just too many. More than 500 prisoners, only men. I started at 10am and worked until 9pm. That was piecework.

So I called some people and I’ve found two colleagues who came with me. On the first day we worked with three barbers and the other two days I worked alone. After that I took two more colleagues, so five of us were working and I didn’t have to stay until 9pm anymore.


How does it work?

When I arrive in the morning, my tools are listed, they do an incoming inspection, I’ll get scanned and go through a lock. My tool case is examined, everything gets listed, then it gets scanned like at the airport and I’ll get scanned. I can’t take anything to jail, no keys, no wallet, no phone, no money. I can keep my watch, ring, glasses. I have to give them my private things like car keys and ID card and then I get them back later.

Hygiene is very important here, much more than in the private sector.Scissors and razors are prohibited.

I do everything with a comb and a hair trimmer. I cut hair and beards. Every hour my tools gets checked again. There are maybe 10-15% bald guys and the rest has modern short haircuts. Or some want to have some kind of a pattern. I don’t dye hair. The prisoners are allowed to choose their hairstyle. When there are new prisoners and they still have long hair, they often ask “Can I choose what I want?”

There is always only one prisoner with me in the room. It’s always routine, very cautious, no private conversations. The prisoners actually don’t want to talk. It may happen that a prisoner tells me to give him a nice haircut for a trial in the next week. Sometimes I ask what could happen (at the trial). If he could get probation or two years in jail.

But a prisoner never has told why he’s there. It’s prohibited to ask for that and the prisoners don’t even want to tell me. Even if I would hear something, I am not allowed to talk about it outside of the prison. That would be an immediate dismissal. 


Were you concerned that something might happen to you?

My wife was concerned, I wasn’t. I got a security briefing, I have an emergency call device on me, the room is under camera surveillance and a prison guard is always there. Why would they want to hurt me? They wouldn’t get out of the room and there is no benefit about it for them. They rather hurt each other or a prison guard than me.

I imagine it always like this: If a prisoner would do anything to me the other prisoners would hurt him because I couldn’t come anymore.We also have never been threatened. We also have never been approached to do something or take something with us; that has never happened. I would never do that because I would have to go to jail. I’m not stupid. In all those years that I work there, there has never been an incident.

My female colleagues weren’t concerned either. I briefed them and they know how to behave. One of my female colleagues was pretty nervous the first time because she wasn’t sure what would happen. The second day was already better.  The prisoners are happy that we, the barbers, come because it’s a change in the routine, the safety regulations are very strict. By law they have one hour outside (of their cell) in the outdoor recreation area, gym or leisure time activities.


What do you think about your work?

It’s nothing special. Whether I’m in the hospital to work there, in the monastery to cut hair of the monks or the prisoners in jail, it’s a job.

Sure, in the beginning it was also exciting for me. But after so many years, everything is normal. I go and cut hair, get out and I am done.

I have never regret it and never had the idea that I would like to work again in a barbershop. It was my life work to start my own business, to be successful, establish branches and it worked. I loved my job and for me there was always the question “If an angel comes to you and says you can’t longer be a hairdresser, what would you do?” I don’t know. I wouldn’t know because it’s my life. I am a hairdresser for almost 50 years, I did good, with success and like my current work.

I really like doing it. It’s fun. I do this like any other job. Whether I’m working in my shop or in jail, the prisoners are treated by me with the same respect as any other customer.

They are not prisoners, they are clients to me. I really see them as customers and they know that. That’s what they appreciate. It is a very pleasant relationship of trust.





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