“It was about the six seconds of compassion that my foster sister showed me and the courage to let her compassion flow through me.”
Incarcerated: 17 years
Housed: San Quentin
I was shocked. My words had betrayed me. Words that rose from a place I didn’t know existed, “I’ll cut your hair,” I offered, and with those words, I violated the hard knocks street rule of minding my own business. Yet, it didn’t feel like I had broken a cardinal rule. It felt, well … right, like I was connected to this man’s suffering in a way that reminded me of my own. He was thin and unimposing. He had an unkempt afro and a long, ragged beard. All he wanted was a haircut so he could appear presentable before a judge the next day. Yet, none of the barbers would touch him. He couldn’t afford to pay for the store items they wanted. That’s when those four fateful words leaped from my mouth and landed in his ear. He turned to look at me and told me that he didn’t have any way to pay me. “That’s okay,” I said. I then spent the next three hours meticulously trimming his hair and beard. I had no experience as a barber, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was to humanize him to the judge, to himself, and to the barbers who had written him off. I know what it’s like to be written off; to be forgotten. My childhood and prison sentence tell me so. He shook my hand and thanked me, expressing gratitude towards a man that not even I had ever met. Something shifted inside of me as a result of that experience. It blessed me with a life-changing glimpse of the man I wanted to become: compassionate, connected, and courageous. Fourteen years have passed since that day and I have been cutting hair for free ever since. Each haircut lures me deeper, more intimately into my humanness and that of others. Every conversation reveals our sameness and stirs within me a deep sense of remorse for the harm I caused to people who were just like me.