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California Prison Beauty School Helps Inmates Prepare For Careers

At a male prison facility in central California, the most popular job-training program is surprising - an extensive beauty school course that offers a license for real-world opportunities to those who pass.

In 2013, Valley State Prison of Chowchilla, California transformed from a women's' prison facility to an all-male prison. Among the issues of the transition was the question of what to do with the former woman prison's cosmetology program. All of the wigs for styling practice, blowdryers, supplies for manicures, facials, perms, and more remained stocked in the supply closet, waiting to be shipped to another female correctional facility. Also waiting to hear her future was Carmen Shehorn, the prison's passionate cosmetology professor.

Valley State Prison administrators decided that they would keep the program going and see if any of the male inmates would want to enroll in the vocational program. If there was enough interest, they would keep the program open. It turned out to be a wise decision as today, there is a waiting list for the prison's most popular job-training program.

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Today, "Style Hero" Carmen Shehorn dutifully teaches the male inmates all of the skills that are required to obtain a cosmetology license outside of prison. Shehorn instructs how to cut and perm both men and women's hair, perform facials, apply eyelash extensions, gel manicures, and more via traditional classroom instruction and hands-on experience using fellow inmate students and even prison staff members as practice clients.

"A lot of the guys in here are going to go home," Shehorn told TODAY Style. "They're going to be your neighbors. They're going to be working at places and we need to give them the skills and ability to work, and the chance to work. Otherwise, they will fall back into what they were doing before and what got them in trouble."

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The cosmetology program is accredited by California's Board of Barbering and Cosmetology and takes about two and a half years to complete. Juan Brizuela is one of Sherhorn's success stories. Brizuela has served 22 years for second-degree murder, a crime that was committed when he was a teen. Released from prison on parole last year at the age of 37, Brizuela now gives haircuts while rubbing elbows with the rich and famous at a celebrity hair salon in Pasadena, California.

"Juan was one of the first students to get his license," Shehorn said. "He was very quiet, very reserved when he first came to class. By the time he did end up leaving here, he was one of my (teacher assistants). He was very helpful."

"I've had some hard times but I've also had some good times," he told TODAY. "I'm surrounded by a lot of positive people in my life who support me, in and out of the salon."

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