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It's a crime, what happens to hair in jail

TAMPA — Need extra inspiration to lead an honest life?

Do it for your hair.

On a list of reasons to avoid jail, bad hair could easily make the cut.

Courtroom cameras routinely capture the neglected roots of crime.

There they were this summer on DeeDee Moore, the woman charged with murdering a Lakeland lottery winner.

She went to jail with tight blonde ringlets then emerged in Hillsborough Circuit Court with a frazzled two-toned mane, the top half coffee brown.

Stephanie Ragusa, the former Hillsborough County teacher convicted of having sex with a student, faced the jury with the front of her hair in cornrows and the back hanging loose in messy waves.

Not her look.

"It's too casual," said Dee Ann Athan, a Tampa defense lawyer. "That was unfortunate."

It was a look that read vacation, not innocence.

While on trial in a Pinellas County courtroom for stabbing a romantic rival to death, teen Rachel Wade wore bone-straight locks that mirrored a tie-dyed print — natural brown roots fading into golden blond strands and ash blond ends.

In jails on both sides of Tampa Bay, house rules create an environment more conducive to hair don'ts than hair dos.

Inmates have two choices: cut their own hair or trust another inmate to do it. No bleaching, coloring, curling, straightening or styling allowed.

Hillsborough jails provide each housing unit with clippers, barber shears, Barbicide, combs and safety scissors, said Col. Jim Previtera, the jail commander.

Under such circumstances, men fare better, he said.

Humberto Delgado and Dontae Morris, both accused of gunning down Tampa police officers, were offered barber kits in isolation to give themselves a trim.

Delgado was able to improve his appearance from the dread-locked and matted mess that entered the jail in August 2009.

In the general population, inmates turn to each other for help.

A trusty or someone chosen for skill might cut hair for an entire housing unit, reputation traveling by word of mouth.

"There are some guys who if they ever got their lives together could be professional barbers," Previtera said.

Detention deputies, sensitive to gang activity, keep a watchful eye to make sure there are no designs added to haircuts or that too many inmates aren't requesting the same style.

The dearth of styling options leads some defendants to cultivate their creativity.

In the Pinellas County Jail, inmates sometimes buy candy in the commissary to put color on their lips, said Cecilia Barreda, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's office.

They can also roll their hair around wads of toilet paper to create curls. Only items bought in the commissary are permitted.

"Everything else is considered contraband," Barreda said.

Few inmates are willing to risk more time in jail for smuggled hot rollers.

Athan said she advises her clients against cornrows or any other hairstyle that may prejudice juries — including men shaving their heads bald.

"Juries are people," Athan said.

There was time when a lawyer could bring a stylist to the jail.

Previtera said that's no longer allowed.

But Athan remembers doing it for Valessa Robinson, a young woman convicted in 2000 of taking part in mother's murder.

"It was really hard to get a stylist to go there," Athan said, recalling. "No one wants to go to jail — even to visit."

It's a crime, what happens to hair in jail 10/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 9, 2010 8:43pm]
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