Among many programs at the Washington Corrections Center for Women that are designed to prepare inmates to resume life on the outside as productive citizens is a school of cosmetology. Early last month, 15 students graduated from the school, wearing green caps and gowns and ceremonially tossing their tassels to the correct side of their caps.
Many special guests attended the graduation. Dr. John W. Walstrum, president of Clover Park Technical College, has a solid background of experiences and accomplishments through education, training, workforce and economic development, fundraising, student affairs and community service programs.
Steven Ellis, Clover Park’s dean of instruction, explained the college’s partnership with WCCW.
“I will start by using a number of graduation descriptors like ‘heart wrenching,’ ‘sentimental,’ and ‘emotional,’ ” Ellis said. “The women who make it through the 1,600-hour, five-quarter program are less likely to return to prison. To date, we’ve held four graduations in six years that have seen 57 women complete the program. Of those 57, only two have returned to prison.”
Ellis said 14 are currently working in the cosmetology industry and about half of the women who completed the program have passed the state licensing exam and are prepared to work.
“The program is about hope for a brighter future, a chance to support families with meaningful work, heightened self-esteem,” he said. “It provides a second chance at life and freedom. The graduation ceremony itself is not just the end of a program of study but a new beginning in life.”
Barbara Frink, a WCCW cosmetology instructor, calls teaching at the prison a fulfilling investment in her life.
“When I start a new class, students are not sure of themselves,” Frink said. “As time progresses, they show confidence, and their self-esteem goes up. It is so invigorating.
“I want to give back to my industry what it gave me and help women stand on their own and be able to provide for themselves and their families,” she said. “If I help at least one get the license and work in a salon, it has been worth all the effort, and I am proud of my accomplishment.”
Frink has had four classes graduate since she stared at WCCW.
A graduate speaker was inmate Tanya Wilson, one of Frink’s students.
“Ms. Frink gave us different activities to become familiar with the material,” Wilson said. “She realized something about integrity we did not yet know. Integrity is a quality that may not come naturally, but that, built over time and a series of choices, truly determines the course of an individual’s life.
“We built up our own integrity, supported the integrity of our peers, and it became an essential part of who we are, not only as salon professionals, but as human beings as well,” she said. “No other cosmetology instructor has been as successful in preparing her students for the salon profession, and it shows, academically in us, financially for the program, and I believe in rates of recidivism within the institution.”
Another graduate speaker, Shajuanda Tate, delivered a poem that she composed.
“Education paved the way for me,” part of the poem read. “On the path I walked toward integrity, When it seemed that there was no further I could go, On a lonely ... sad ... downtrodden road, I continued to press, Hope still in me, That success would come from my better deeds. You see, before the word integrity did not seem much, And with its meaning I was out of touch, So as I began to transition and transcend, An awakening occurred within, And the void that I held slowly started to fill, With power and knowledge as I learned new skills, Taught to me with patience, care, and sometimes a yell, But always with the intention and hope that I would excel.”
Many of the other inmates in the program also expressed what cosmetology instruction had taught them.
“Ms. Frink taught me a career for my new future and the inspiration to put my new career into action,” Jonee Rucker said. “Cosmetology has been one of my dreams since I was a young girl.”
“I can do well in school, I can finish and do something better with my life,” Jennifer Lowe added.
“Second chances are available to those who really want them; this time around, I will succeed,” Kristin Nordtveit said.
Giselle Norris summed up the skills the class had given her and the other students:
“If I had to name the most important thing I learned from Barbara Frink, it would be patience, not just for others but for myself as well.
“Sometimes we can be our own worst critic, and through the course of this class and with the help of the instructor, I learned to relax and to give myself a chance to succeed.”Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at email@example.com.