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Shelby County program prepares ex-felons to reenter the workforce

The Shelby County Office of Reentry has a number of vocational courses that men and women can sign up for.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County Office of Reentry is preparing former felons to set themselves up for success before they are released.

Behind the concrete walls, ladies are hard at work.

“I want to learn how to do everything because when people come into the salon and you never know what they may want when they sit in your chair, so I want to learn how to do whatever they ask for,” student Tionna Jones said.

Tionna Jones said this is her first experience as an aspiring hairstylist.

“They put out a list in the dorms, for the class and I feel like it was something that I needed," Jones said. "Then I’m going up for parole, so I feel like I needed to have as many classes as I could to go home … I didn’t think I was going to get picked but I got picked for it, and I just went with it.”

The Shelby County Office of Reentry, which is housed under the Division of Corrections, has a number of vocational courses that men and women can sign up for. 

In these, they can pursue careers in natural hair, as a barber, or in the janitorial field. 

Student Latrice Brown said earning this certification will be key to her success when she’s released.

“I wanted to learn the products … and doing natural hair or permed hair, so I could learn how to do it with my kids and my family members and friends,” Brown stated.

A bill passed in 2013 allows natural hair schools to be free-standing, so the department of corrections reached out to the Institute of Beauty, Tennessee's first natural hair school.

The institute prepares students with hands-on training in natural hair care, braiding techniques, extensions and more.

Owner Tamika Turner said this training is about setting the women up to build generational wealth.

“The beauty business is a business that creates businesses," Turner said. "So of course, the ladies here might have had some things happen in the past that may stop them in corporate America or in other places.”

Students are required to complete 300 hours of training and experience to earn their certification. So far, these women are halfway through and have 150 hours left.