CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - It was a very special day Wednesday for inmates at one of the state's toughest prisons.
Family and friends watched as the Barber College inside Stateville Correctional Center handed out diplomas to it's first-ever graduating class.
Call them the Barbers of Stateville: After 1500 hours of training inside one of the state's toughest correctional centers, 15 inmates received their diplomas from the Stateville Barber College.
The first-ever graduation ceremony included a performance by the Stateville Choir, speeches by Illinois Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, acting corrections director John Baldwin, and Bobby Mattison, who initiated this unique program.
“This has been eighteen years in the making, and to see you all? Man, thank you,” Mattison said.
Most of the inmates are still serving lengthy sentences, so instead of starting their new careers on the outside, they'll be transferred to other Illinois correctional centers, where they'll be cutting the hair of other inmates.
The ceremony's commencement speaker, graduate Anthony Thomas, has 15 years left on his 25 year sentence for attempted murder.
“This day, this moment, is one of the best in my life,” Thomas.
Graduate Leon Cannon has served 18 years of a 50 year sentence for attempted robbery and murder.
FOX 32: What's this ceremony mean to you today?
“It means everything, you know. Not only does it prove to me that I have more to offer, but that I have a gift. I never knew that I had a gift or a knack for cutting hair until I became a barber and a part of the barber college,” said Leon Cannon.
When these graduates return to their communities, they'll still have to apply for their barber's license. But before long, the rules may be changed, so inmates might be able to get a license while they're still incarcerated.
“What we're looking for is creating a pathway that will allow them to get licensed while they're still in an institutional setting so that they're literally ready to go the day out the door,” said Bryan Schneider of The Department of Professional Regulation.
And while they're not out the door yet, today was a very big step in that direction.