Demetrious Wood says nothing can compare to the feeling he gets when a customer reviews a fresh haircut and flashes a grin.
"I like to see a person with that look," the Southern Barber College student said. "When I can make them feel good, that makes me feel good. After doing so much wrong, it feels good to do a little right."
Mr. Wood, 37, spent 10 years in prison for aggravated assault. After serving his time, he said he realized many employers were not interested in hiring a convicted felon. But his knack for cutting hair -- and a chance to attend the Southern Barber College -- gave him the opportunity he has been waiting for.
"I'm motivated now, because I'm doing something I like," he said. "I've matured a lot here."
The barber college on Deans Bridge Road has served as a bridge for dozens of men and women who have served time, and are looking for a fresh start, said Robert Mills, the manager at the college since 1990.
Southern Barber College opened in 1965. Since then, about 95 percent of graduates have gone on to receive their barber licenses, Mr. Mills said.
The Rev. Charlie Beasley, owner of the college and pastor of Evans Presbyterian Church, said his goal in starting the school was to open a door for those who might not have had it as easy as he did.
"I had been real fortunate in my life," said the Army veteran and native Augustan. "I just tried to help people along the way."
The Rev. Beasley recalls in the 1960s accepting students who did not finish high school. By the 1970s, black students were taking classes at Southern Barber College, which was rare, he said.
Some of the students with criminal backgrounds don't finish at Southern, but many of them still become successful, the Rev. Beasley said.
"They go on to own shops and their own businesses," he said. "Sometimes they get on the wrong path, and try to get on the right one."
Leonard Keyes was looking for the right path when he attended the school in 2006. The Grovetown man served jail time, and wanted a second chance.
Besides learning the craft, Mr. Keyes said he also learned about gaining success beyond barbering from Mr. Mills.
"He told me to keep my goals in life and keep progressing," Mr. Keyes, 30, said. "After going there, I had more respect for the public and really more respect for myself.
Mr. Keyes has owned his own shop since graduating in 2006, and is now in school to become an instructor.
The 42 courses the barber students receive range from styling techniques to anatomy, Mr. Mills said. They come out as great barbers but, more importantly, better people, he said.
Richard Dunn will be graduating along with Mr. Wood in March. The 25-year-old New Orleans native said he takes life more seriously now.
"I don't have time for all the foolishness," he said. "It is hard to make it when you have a record, but here it feels good. Nobody judges you for what you did. You're just a barber."
Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOUTHERN BARBER COLLEGE
NUMBER OF COURSES: 42
LENGTH OF PROGRAM: 9 months
TUITION: $225 per month
LEARN MORE: For more information about enrolling at the Southern Barber College, at 2601 Deans Bridge Road, contact Robert Mills at (706) 736-9706.