For the past six months, Heather Packer and her team of hairdressers have been going to New York’s Rikers Island Jail to teach cosmetology skills to female inmates.
Rikers is notorious for allegations of corruption and human rights abuses, and it’s among the top 12 worst jails in the United States. A recent Justice Department study found 50 of the 800 female inmates are sexually abused by staff. Heather hopes her program, Fearless Beauty, will give these women a sense of community while they’re being held there.
“I asked the teachers that went with us to be open to the women as human beings,” Heather told Your Morning in a recent interview. “To be honest, it was totally intimidating at first.”
“Once we got into the classroom and the women started to feel comfortable with us, I realized it was like any other classroom that I’ve taught in.”
Fearless Beauty consisted of two teachers and 15 students at one time, who met for 2.5-hour sessions twice a week. The women learned skills like wet styling, brushing and combing, learning about the anatomy of the head, roller setting and pin curling, braiding, and natural texture styling. Following that, students were allowed to practice hair cutting. (For security purposes, the team had to get all tools approved, and everything was counted before and after classes.)
After graduating from the 24-week program, the women could attend cosmetology school with scholarship support and pursue careers in the beauty industry.
Heather hopes to expand the program to other facilities, but fundraising has been an issue. It costs $20,000 per six month semester to pay for tools, supplies, and smaller teacher stipends.
For more info on how you can support Heather’s program, visit the Fearless Beauty website.