A smirk spread across the face of a Vancouver, Wash., teen as he ran his fingers over the freshly cut design etched into his head by a Pasco barber.
It was the first time that Jacob, 16, had been in front of a barber in more than a year.
That’s because Jacob and his three fellow platoon mates at a military-style boot camp in Connell have been locked up for felony convictions ranging from first-degree assault to burglary.
The boys chose to attend Camp Outlook — an intensive four-month program for juveniles near Coyote Ridge Corrections Center — to try and straighten out their lives. They graduate Wednesday and soon will face the challenge of life beyond Camp Outlook.
Never miss a local story.
Camp Director Harold Wright enlisted the help of barber Abel Garza to make sure that transition is a little easier. Garza, 28, donated his time and talent Monday to give the boys a new look in preparation for their new life.
Jacob and two others had Garza shape the number of their platoon into their skin-tight fades. The boys proudly showed off the designs as drill instructors shook their heads in disbelief.
“It shows a fresh start,” said Jacob, who was convicted of robbery and now wants to become a carpenter or go to a Charter College. “Getting rid of that hair is dropping who you used to be.”
Wright gets his hair cut by Garza and the two regularly have discussions about how to give back to the community and be positive influences on at-risk kids.
Many of the kids who come to Camp Outlook are addicted to drugs, associated with gangs and live in broken homes. They have been locked up for big portions of their lives and lack the social and educational skills of normal teens.
So, Wright, a former principal, tries to bring in positive people who can relate to the teens and show them there’s more to life than the streets, he said. He saw an opportunity to do that with Garza.
Wright explained that to some it may just be a haircut, but to the kids it’s somebody going out of their way to do something nice for them, he said. And many of these young people have never experienced this before.
“Look at their faces. Look at what they believe now,” he said. “They have the confidence and they want to go show off their new self.”
Garza grew up in Toppenish and was into the street graffiti scene as well as being a barber, he said. He has been cutting hair since he was young and plans to open a gentlemen’s barber shop in Pasco in the next few weeks. He currently works at Studio 64 in Pasco.
Garza said to many people getting a haircut is a part of everyday life, he said. But to boys who have been locked up for most of their teenage years, a simple haircut and conversation can have a huge effect.
“A haircut can do a lot. I know because I do it every day,” he said. “A haircut can change a life.”
When Garza first walked into the Camp Outlook compound and plugged his clippers in, all four of the boys began to beam with excitement.
When they came to the camp four months ago, one of the first things drill instructors did was shave their heads. A few were forced to cut off their long hair.
The boys had been getting haircuts every Sunday, but they were cut by drill instructors who weren’t particularly concerned with how they turned out. That was evident Monday by the poorly blended fades and patchy areas on the boys’ heads.
Kenneth, 17, is from the Seattle area and has spent his last two birthdays behind bars after he stabbed a man during an attempted robbery, he said. Wright joked that Kenneth was ready for Wall Street when Garza had finished his hair.
“It fills this trainee with pride,” said Kenneth, referring to himself. “It’s been a long time since this trainee went to a barber.”
Others were taken aback by the fact Garza simply wanted to do something nice for them. A lot of favors on the streets can come with strings attached, and Aayden, 16, told the Herald he was impressed with Garza’s willingness to make sure he looked good for graduation.
Aayden used to be a drug dealer and has never been to high school, he said. He wants to go to school to become a baseball scout one day.
“That’s just amazing that we had a guy offering his own time, not willing to get paid, to come here and hook us up with fresh cuts,” he said.
The graduation Wednesday is the culmination of four months of hard work by the boys and staff at the state’s only boot camp for incarcerated juveniles. The group has trained hard physically, studied in the classroom and practiced skills to help them cope with stressful situations.
The graduation will be the first time many of the boys have seen their families in months. Michael, 16, has gained about 40 pounds since he last saw his family and has begun to deal with anger issues that got him in trouble.
Michael said he is unsure if his family will be able to recognize him with his new body, haircut and attitude about life.
“They are going to be amazed to see this trainee,” he said shortly after checking out his new haircut in the mirror. “This trainee feels brand new.”