Dressed in plain grey shirt and black pants, the inmates are now giving serious competition to the other salons in the town!

This Kerala prison has inmates running a beauty salon and its a massive hit
news Human Interest Saturday, April 01, 2017 - 09:45

Like any other person his age, 26-year-old Arjun from Kerala’s Kannur was a regular at the mall near his house, where he went frequently to get a haircut. But for the last four months, he has a new favourite hair salon - the Kannur central prison!

Arjun, like many others, is a faithful customer of the men's salon run by the prison inmates.

Freedom Expression, that functions out of a small room in the prison premises, will complete a year of service in a few days. A year on, the initiative has changed a lot of things for the inmates and positively changed the way the general public sees them.

In April last year, the salon was started as a means of equipping the inmates with vocational training so that they would have a means of livelihood when they are released from the prison.

Dressed in plain grey shirt and black pants, the inmates are now giving serious competition to the other salons in the town!

The three-room air-conditioned salon that is open from 9am to 5.30 pm everyday, sees at least seventy customers on a daily basis. A police person sits at the cash counter - and that’s the only indication of police presence at the salon, apart from of course, its location.

The beginning

A one-month long training conducted by NGO Rudesti (Rural Development and Self-Employment Training Institute) for the prison inmates is what marked the beginning of the initiative last year.

30 inmates who volunteered were given training in a beautician course. When the training was over, the prison officials decided to convert a generator room in the compound into a salon.

"The primary purpose of having the workshop was to give them vocational training, so that they could lead a normal life once they leave from here. Once the training was done, we did not want them to lose touch on what they had learnt and thought, why not open a salon in the premises," says Jail Superintendent Ashok Kumar.

Of the 30 inmates who were given training, six men are allotted work at the salon at any given point.

The inmates earn Rs 200 a day, almost double what the regular "barbers" inside the prison earn.

"We have always had a few barber inmates and they would take care of the cutting and shaving needs of the inmates. But Freedom Expressions is not a barber shop, but a well-equipped beauty parlour. And the kind of services we offer are also advanced and ones that require additional skill," he says.

The officer points out that with other inmates expressing desire to enroll themselves in the beautician course, the initiative has been successful in creating a positive competition among the inmates.

"It is good to have this healthy ego, that will eventually make the inmates strive harder for a better life. Lack of employment is what drives many young men to commit crimes and the lack of rehabilitation measures prevent them from living a normal life later. Our plan solves this," the SP says.

A haircut at Rs 50 and oil massage at Rs 30, the salon also offers services including hair dyeing, hair straightening and facials. The reasonable rates for the services are an add-on for the customers.

Loyal customers

A year on, the officer says that resistance and skepticism from the general public is a thing of the past. Initially, people would drop in to "test" the services and once they visit the salon, there is hardly anyone who has not pledged their loyalty to the salon.

The officer is not surprised, for the prison officials knew that the initial doubts will soon disappear.

"Now, we have so many regular customers, including children. At the salon, we have taken extra care not to make the customers feel threatened or skeptical about the people who serve them. That's what the uniform system is for. We have also given the inmates soft-skill training and every customer is greeted when he comes in. All this makes a lot of difference in the way people perceive the inmates," Superintendent Ashok explains.

Replicating this model, the Poojapura central prison will also open a beauty salon in a few months.

(All photographs by SK Mohan)

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