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Denver barber shop with formerly incarcerated stylists cut hair and stigma

Formerly incarcerated individuals receive second chance at Denver business
Formerly incarcerated individuals receive second chance at Denver business 01:57

Prisons and detention centers in Colorado and across the country have made beauty and barber schools part of their educational training.

R & R Head Labs is a new salon in Denver dedicated to changing negative perceptions around people who were incarcerated while giving them a platform for their skills.

"They didn't have razors for you to practice with in there," laughed Geno Duran. "But I had plenty of other practice with the inmates."


Geno Duran is one of the barbers who earned a cosmetology certification behind bars.

If he hadn't turned his life around through cutting hair, Duran says he'd likely be back in prison or dead.

"I wish I had this before I went to prison. I didn't have anybody to believe in me or to hold me up and tell me 'hey, this is what you should do. This is what we see you're great at.' I might not have gone down that bad path," said Duran. "God's timing is perfect and I'm grateful for this moment."

Staff met at the shop near Colfax Avenue and York Street for training on Friday afternoon. Their service mentor has taught barbering in Massachusetts prisons for 15 years. R & R Head Labs founder Jamie Repenning says the lessons provided here go beyond cutting hair.

"What's important is we've built a lot of mentoring and structure for our team to help them and make sure they're in a good place when they show up for work. They have unique needs that we're building the company around," said Repenning.

Repenning and his operations manager Deborah Ramirez have been visiting prisons with cosmetology programs. Most recently, they went to the Denver Women's Correctional Facility, where Ramirez was incarcerated for five years.

"I wish you could see the light we saw in these women's eyes. They had tons of questions. They were excited and they wanted to know how they could get involved," said Ramirez. "You have to be motivated to be here and you have to want to be here and you have to want to make the changes."

Ramirez also found her passion for cosmetology behind bars. It's a path she never would've explored had she not been locked up. She found a job as a hairstylist just weeks after being released, but the journey wasn't easy.

"My sentence was 15 years. I only did five behind walls, but I still did every bit of my time on the outside, Ankle monitor, parole, everything. There were most definitely speed bumps that had to be overcome," said Ramirez. "We're really good people who made mistakes in life. We deserve second chances."

Colorado prohibits employers from asking about criminal history on initial job applications.

You can't ban human judgment, but R & R wants to change the public's perception.

"It's the experience of having someone who's formerly incarcerated cut your hair and realizing this person is awesome. This person is intelligent, they're nice, they're caring. For a lot of people, that's just not what they expect," said Repenning. "We're helping people get meaningful jobs, and then we're changing biases of the people sitting in their chairs."

Duran also gives back to his community by volunteering his barber skills in underserved communities. 

He wants to support and inspire others facing challenges of their own.

"I think I have a lot to offer to people who are going down a dark path. Hopefully, my story could change their trajectory," said Duran. "I can't control what people think about me. I'm just going to let my haircut speak for itself."

The staff will not only include people who were incarcerated but also those who have been impacted by the prison system in other ways, like having a parent in prison.

R & R Head Labs aims to open the second week in February. For more information visit:

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