Feb 4, 2024 - News

Denver barbershop will train, employ formerly incarcerated people

A man in a hooded sweater with the word SAVAGE printed over it sits next to another man wearing a beige jacket inside a well-lite room. Both are smiling.

From left: Geno Duran and Stephen Paul Apodaca at R&R Head Labs in Denver. Photo: Esteban L. Hernandez/Axios

The job posting seemed too good to be true: an opening at a barbershop hiring formerly incarcerated people. But Geno Duran, 48, decided to apply.

Details: Duran, who spent nearly 15 years in prison, told us he got a call from R&R Head Labs a day later and was told he would be a perfect fit. He accepted the job.

  • "It really felt good, so I jumped on board," Duran tells us.
  • Duran got his barber's license shortly after being released in 2019, years after developing his hair-cutting skills while imprisoned.

Why it matters: R&R Head Labs will hire formerly incarcerated people who received their training while in prison, helping provide jobs to people who often struggle to get employment opportunities.

Zoom in: The shop will employ between 15 to 20 people, founder James Repenning tells us.

  • Repenning was partly inspired to open the business after he hired a man who had served more than 30 years in prison as a barber for another company.
  • He wants to open similar shops in other cities including Boston and Chicago.

Stephen Paul Apodaca, 34, says serving as a barber apprentice is giving him a chance to get back on his feet.

  • After spending two years in prison, he was released about seven months ago. He's aiming to get his barber certificate this summer.

What he's saying: "It just gives me that opportunity to start a life for myself," Apodaca said. "It's just a new beginning for me."

Between the lines: Apodaca and Duran, who both grew up in Denver, tell us they feared what reentry would entail.

  • It included finding a career — not just a job — and facing prejudice from people who made assumptions about them.
  • Duran recalls getting ignored by customers at a former job site, saying it made him insecure about whether he could make a career out of cutting hair.

Context: Because many of the barbers trained inside prisons provide haircuts for people of all races, they're able to cut many more different hair types than people who get traditional training, Repenning tells us.

What's next: R&R Head Labs is set to open this week at the corner of Colfax Avenue and York Street.

  • You can get a cut from 9am-8pm Tuesdays to Thursday, 9am-7pm on Friday, 9am-6pm on Saturday and 10am-5pm on Sunday. It will be closed Mondays.

Read more: How the Denver Dream Center helps people with reentry

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