Hair Design program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon
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Beauty Is More Than Skin Deep in Prison: Women’s Survival Depends on Self Care

Prisons were designed for male inmates. Rehabilitation programs for women prisoners often exist under an abuse of power in male-centered prison facilities. Women inmates need access to programs designed specifically to empower, not abuse.

In the last twenty years, the population of inmates who are women has increased by 700%. There are currently over 220,000 women who are incarcerated in a system that was designed and built for men.

A prison structure created on power over those being punished has become a system created for the abuse of that power, stripping inmates who are women of their basic rights and their dignity. How are female inmates given access to the rehabilitation they need in order to step back into society upon release?

One such solution that holds positive answers is beauty. Is it possible the beauty may hold some keys to fighting recidivism?

Two prisoners having a hard time behind bars.
Being a female inmate in prison has it’s own set of struggles exclusive from what male inmates face.
Image Source: Writing Inside VT.

A Woman’s Sense of Self in a Man’s World

Women experience a huge loss of self when they are locked up in a “man’s world,” losing all of their femininity and sense of self. Incarcerated ladies are often the primary caregivers to underage children and want to be rehabilitated to re-enter society upon release.

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Several prisons have attempted to respond to the increase in women prisoners with cosmetology programs and the response has been more than positive. The program has given hope to women for the first time, giving them something to believe in and in turn, believing in themselves.

Women incarcerated suffer from:

  • 66% have mental health issues
  • 75% were subjected to domestic violence
  • 82% were subjected to sexual abuse

It is more important than ever, to give women something to believe in. Tailoring rehabilitation programs towards women works and gives them the confidence they need to take care of their families and take the workforce by storm. Refinery 29 reports:

“Beauty is just one piece of a complex puzzle, but it’s one that can change lives.”

Shaylene "Light Blue" Graves added to the state's high suicide rates when she took her own life in a CIW prison in 2016.
Shaylene “Light Blue” Graves added to the state’s high suicide rates when she took her own life in a CIW prison in 2016. Better programs may have helped save her life. Click here to read more.

Results of Two Different Beauty Programs

Two examples of the rehabilitation programs in Cosmetology exhibit the fine line of power over the punished. This is how something designed to be a positive situation for women, can be used to exploit and deny their basic rights:

Fighting Recidivism: Oregon’s Hair Design Program for Women Prisoners

The Hair Design program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon is a success story for many inmates. After a third stint in prison on drug charges, Candace Altman finally broke the recidivism cycle BECAUSE of her success in the program. It gave her something to look forward to and work towards while inside.

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Oregon’s Hair Design program for women prisoners really gave her hope for the future.

Hair Design program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon
Hair Design program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon. Image Source: Oregon

Every prison runs their rehabilitation programs independently. Most beauty programs at other prisons have not been as successful due to the fine line of power. Another issue at large is the cost to invest in these programs.

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Fighting Recidivism: Florida’s Beauty Program for Women Prisoners

At the largest women’s prison in the country, Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida, women utilize their skills in the cosmetology room. Here at this prison, women inmates are exploited and abused because of the power structure present among both staff and imates. We see the power guards exploit over women inmates all the time.

Lowell Correctional Institution inmates celebrate earning high school degrees
Lowell prison inmates celebrate earning high school degrees. Image Source: OCALA

Because programs depend on everyday necessities many women need to feel like humans, lady inmates are often used against them, to barter and trade favors. Several previous inmates, including Natalie Hill, explain how simple colored pencils were considered contraband because women used them for makeup.

Without supplies for the Hair Design prison program, students are busy watching their backs rather than focusing on what they are learning. People don’t understand $1 spent on services and supplies to rehabilitate is $5 saved on recidivism.

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Prisons for women need to be redesigned to protect women from the abuse of power. They need to teach and empower women on how to take care of themselves upon release.

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Give them the confidence they need to take back their lives and take care of their families and stay out of trouble. Instead of rehabilitation, women shouldn’t be taught how to barter for everyday necessities they need to live normal lives. This is the fine line between punishment and abuse.

When you give women access to self-care, especially beauty, it bridges the gap in mental health and gives them what they need to succeed in life, and reduces recidivism rates.

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Heather Kay is a NorCal native who bloomed later in life. After finishing her journalism degree, her adventures took her across the pond to travel around Europe. She hopes to settle there someday and write about food and cultures. No matter where she is, she looks for taco ingredients; it reminds her of her family and home. She is a writer with several blogs, published articles and is currently an editor for the Prison Rideshare Network.

Heather Kay
Heather Kay is a NorCal native who bloomed later in life. After finishing her journalism degree, her adventures took her across the pond to travel around Europe. She hopes to settle there someday and write about food and cultures. No matter where she is, she looks for taco ingredients; it reminds her of her family and home. She is a writer with several blogs, published articles and is currently an editor for the Prison Rideshare Network.
http://www.happyhippyhedy.com