Heather Packer works at a luxurious salon in New York City, where she’s styled celebrities from Jennifer Lopez to Cate Blanchett. However, for six months, Packer has been visiting one of the nations most notorious jails: Rikers Island. Here, Packer has been teaching female inmates cosmetology.
It’s no secret that our prison system needs reformation. Rikers itself has been at the center of the media many times. A recent New York Magazine story detailed the systemic sexual abuse by Rikers guards of female inmates who live in the Rose M. Singer Center, or “Rosie.” Rikers is considered a jail, as opposed to a prison, because it is meant for short-term stays, people awaiting trial, or those who can’t afford bail. Though New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has claimed that he will be shutting Rikers down by 2027, around 10,000 inmates are still housed at Rikers, with women staying anywhere from a few days to five years.
Packer is the founder of Fearless Beauty, a company that teaches women with few job prospects the craft of cosmetology. Primarily, this program was run out of India; however, Packer decided to bring it to Rikers when she heard that they had a hair salon and classrooms.
The program at Rikers is designed to ease the transition after release, and give women the skills needed to start a career. 97 women applied for the program, learning skills ranging from pin curling, braiding, up-dos, and coloring. So far, 39 women have participated, though considering that most women at Rikers are serving short sentences, only five were able to finish.
Packer shared the story of one woman’s experience with Racked: “She said when she first started the program, she was at the lowest point in her life. It was the first time in her life she had ever been sober as an adult. She said, ‘But now, not only do I know that I want to be a hairstylist, but I know that I want to help other women.’”
For the full story, head over to Racked.
Photo: Ewout Paulusma via Unsplash