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How A County Jail Job Program Helped This Ex-Con Find His True Calling

By Andrea V. Watson | September 19, 2017 10:23am
 Michael Moore has been working as a barber since leaving Cook County Jail in 2015.
Michael Moore has been working as a barber since leaving Cook County Jail in 2015.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

AUSTIN — Returning to society after spending time in jail can be tough, but a West Side barber was actually able to find a career path thanks to his time in Cook County Jail. 

Michael Moore, a 26-year-old West Side native, served 18 months for possession of a firearm.  

He was unsure how he'd find a job when he got out, fearing a criminal record would scare off potential employers. But a job-placement program in the jail ended up helping him turn his life around. 

Larry’s Barber College opened in Cook County Jail in 2010. Moore, who has loved cutting hair since he was 9, said he immediately signed up when he found out about the school. 

“I didn’t waste any time,” he said.

The barber college's owner, Larry Roberts, owns several barbershops and two other barber colleges.

“I figured putting my school in the jail would create the opportunity for them to go to school, get certified, so that way when they get out of jail they’re able to go right to work and not back to the streets,” Roberts said.

Michael Moore has been working as a barber since leaving County Jail in 2015. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]

The seven-month program taught Moore how to cut hair more precisely, how to color hair and do designs. He even learned a few styles for women with short hair, he said.

“Being in a place that was supposed to be so bad, so negative — this gave you a chance to grow,” he said. “When I heard about the program, I instantly had to jump on that because it kept me busy.”

Moore also credits Roberts' weekly mentoring program that gave inmates a chance to explore the core of their anger and frustration and discuss how they got to jail and why they did what they did.

When he was released in 2015, he was placed at a South Side barber shop through the program. Now he’s working on the West Side at Washington’s Hair Supreme, 5046 W. Madison St. He’s been there for six months.

Moore said he does everything, but specializes in hair designs and graphics. His goal is to own a barbershop.

“I have a passion for [cutting hair], and I don't see myself ever getting tired of this,” he said.“It's art.”

His math and drawing skills, both things he loves, he said, fit perfectly with this profession. And since he’s a people person, Moore enjoys conversation with his clients.

“When I get somebody to sit in my chair, that’s an opportunity to meet someone new,” he said. “After the haircut, we have had a great conversation, and they're happy and satisfied. That’s the biggest thing for me, making people feel better about themselves.”

Roberts said he was tired of people talking about helping inmates get back on their feet and not doing anything to help them. 

“We’re so quick to talk about the people who we feel are bad people and what we feel they should be doing,” he said. “But I didn’t want to be one of the ones talking about them. I wanted to be a part of the solution, so I said 'What can I do?'”

He said because he’s always been passionate about helping, he wanted to offer them more than just skills. That’s why the mentoring component was added. He’s also a life coach and author.

Since introducing the program at County Jail, he’s seen more than 200 people in it, and about 75 have successfully completed it and been placed in jobs.

“I understood how difficult it can be for someone to get out of jail with a criminal background,” he said. “When they try to get a good, honest, paying job, they can’t get one, which causes them to go back to what they were doing.”

Roberts said he stays in touch with Moore and everyone else who's graduated from the program.

His ultimate goal is to create a chain of full-service Larry’s Barber shops and salons across the country, so graduates can go straight from his program to one of his shops. 

Need a haircut? Follow Moore on Instagram at @Ice_Mike_Chicago_Barber or call 773-261-9061.