Women in Prison Take Cosmetology Course That Gives Them Hope: ‘It is Very Inspiring’

Women in a California prison are receiving the chance to change their lives through cosmetology.

Elsa Lumsden runs the Beauty Therapy course at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), providing the women at the prison a way to gain their qualification in cosmetology and find jobs on the outside.

Lumsden, who has been teaching the course for 13 years, said it also provides the women with support and confidence. 

“I never looked at prisoners in a negative way, if they have support and the tutoring and mentoring they can be great people,” Lumsden said. 

During the course, the inmates who participate are even allowed to touch each other, something that is usually not allowed in the largest  prison in the state.

Once the women complete 1,600 hours of hands-on experience, ranging from haircuts to pedicures, they are able to take the state board exam to get their cosmetology license.

For a lot of inmates, it provides hope.

Sheila John was convicted of first-degree burglary nine years ago. She said she initially couldn’t see the light at the end of her 10-year sentence.

“I chose to do bad in here. I was rough, I was getting in trouble. Being in cosmo and seeing that I can get licensed gave me a drive to change,” John said.

Another inmate, Barbara Chavez, who is serving life without parole for her role in a robbery turned murder, said the idea of serving such a long sentence had taken her hope away.

“But when we get here, after being broken, after coming from abuse, coming from the street-life, and knowing that we can actually accomplish something such as cosmetology to give us a career, it is very inspiring,” Chavez said. 

Although Lumsden said she never forgets she is dealing with potentially violent offenders, she has never had a problem in her class.

The participants are very careful with scissors and tweezers in the course.
“Some people believe that, ‘oh you are no good that’s why you went to prison,’” Lumsden said. “But sometimes it’s just that they are hanging with the wrong crowd at the wrong time and they get caught, but you can see the changes in many of them once they are in the class.”

Former inmates and participants in the course have gone on to work in salons and even opened their own. 

Even for Chavez, who will seemingly never leave prison, the impact of the course is priceless.

“These life skills have changed me. I came from nothing to something,” Chavez said. “I had zero self-esteem, I had zero confidence, I didn’t believe in myself. These life skills have given me hope. I am confident in what I do.”


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