Inmates at a California men’s prison find purpose in beauty school

iStock/Thinkstock(BLYTHE, Calif.) -- Valley State Prison in Chowchilla is a men’s prison in California where inmates can get beauty school training, like everyone else in the state.

"I like doing the facial stuff," Juan Brizuela, 36, an inmate at Valley State told ABC News. "It’s a real intimate moment that you have with your client, you trust one another."

Brizuela was convicted of second degree murder when he was 15 years old and received a sentence of fifteen years to life in prison. Before coming to Valley State he was held for 18 years at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe, California.

"I hadn’t touched another person in 18 years, so when I had to do my first haircut I couldn’t and [the instructor] had to do it for me," Brizuela said. It took him 9 months in the cosmetology program to feel comfortable touching other people, he said.

Inmates aren’t allowed to touch staff or other inmates, and there are a lot of rules when it comes to personal space, according to Lieutenant Ronald Ladd, Administrative Assistant and Public Information Officer at Valley State.

Lt. Ladd said that Valley State was previously a women’s prison. But because of a decrease in the female inmate population and the need for more male institutions, the institution became a male prison in 2013.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has identified Valley State as a "re-entry hub," according to its website, which includes rehabilitation programs, educational and vocational training, like the cosmetology program, for its population.

"We asked the male inmates if they were interested in a cosmetology program when the prison first converted," Ladd told ABC News, "and we were surprised at how many were interested."

The cosmetology training consists of book work, hands on training with mannequins first, then real clients and, lastly, a written test that allows the student to obtain their California State Barbering and Cosmetology License after they’ve completed 1,600 hours of training.

They learn everything from human anatomy and psychology to the business of cosmetology to the different textures of hair and what chemicals to use for those hair types, Brizuela said.

He is the second male inmate at Valley State to receive a cosmetology license, he said, and he enjoys helping other inmates get ready for the licensing exam. When he’s not practicing his newfound trade, Brizuela is preparing for life outside of prison in a parole preparation program.

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