The Dallas Examiner
Near 30 percent of juveniles arrested are girls or young women, and their share of arrests and cases have increased over the past decade, according to a 2016 Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention study.
The greatest factor to influence more positive behaviors in adolescents is positive role models. However, most at-risk African American girls who live in poverty lack positive role models in their distinct areas who can create a change and greatly affect their lives. A Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice report disclosed that African Americans represent 26 percent of juvenile arrests and 58 percent of the youth admitted to state prisons.
Black girls are in need of women that they can relate to and who are aware of these possibilities – like Kea Garrett, CEO of Preparing People Barber and Styling College and former out-of-control teenager.
Garrett once walked down the same rough path leading to a destination filled with despair and legal woes like many young girls in the community. From hell to self-made millionaire, the barber college owner was able to escape this dark place and put herself in a position to tell other people more about her life and how she has overcome many obstacles.
Her humble beginnings weren’t so easy. Born in East Texas, she dealt with family issues and instability since she was 5 years old. After her parents split, her mother, along with her two brothers, moved around Dallas in search for a new start.
Garrett’s mother found a job and house downtown near Ervay Street but was later laid off, which resulted in her home foreclosing and her having to pick up the pieces … again.
“When we lost everything, we didn’t really have anywhere to go,” Garrett said. “People were offering us to stay with them, but my brothers had to go somewhere else.”
The separation would be temporary after her mother’s new boyfriend offered to take the family into his home. The new, stricter environment took even more of a toll on the future cosmetologist’s life as her mother’s boyfriend’s stern rules and surrounding negative influences began to clash.
“In my neighborhood, we didn’t have people to emulate who were professionals or people who were doing good things in the neighborhood,” she explained. “Everybody was either selling drugs or stealing for a living. As little kids, we looked at them like ‘Oh! They have money,’ and that’s what we became – me and my brothers.”
At 15 years old, Garrett ran away from home and began a new life of crime and drug use in South Dallas. She attempted to stay with her father in the area but was rejected by his girlfriend due to her lifestyle and potential influence on the girlfriend’s daughter.
She said her dad loaned her money periodically to help her survive instead as she lived at different friends’ houses. The steady cash flow and constant moving would soon come to a halt once the teen found out that she was pregnant at 17.
Young, with child and homeless, Garrett was in desperate need of a stable home. Fortunately, her father allowed her to stay with him throughout her pregnancy, but the temporary support system fell shortly after her son’s birth after a fight ensued with her stepsister, leading to her being “kicked out in the cold” with her newborn child, she said.
Homeless once again, the new mother dropped her son off with her mother and continued to shoplift and boost store items heavily to support herself.
“We weren’t raised in a church, but I would go into the store, pray and say ‘God, if it is not meant for me to get anything, then don’t let me get anything. Don’t let me get caught,’” Garrett said as she explained her past thought process when shoplifting. “That was my prayer when I walked into the store. I went there almost everyday – until I got caught.”
Her life took a drastic turn for the worst. At 19 years old, she was arrested for robbery after shoplifting and fighting the storeowner who tackled her for the stolen items. After failing probation checks, she was ultimately sentenced to three years at Gatesville Hilltop Unit. Garrett joined the 1 in 100 African American women locked in prison nationwide, according to a CJCJ report.
The transition proved to be challenging. Garrett said she was forced to conduct hard labor five days a week with no pay and to walk around the facility in a single file line with other inmates like military soldiers preparing for war, or else she would receive a mark against her on her files, known as a “case.”
Incarceration handicapped Garrett heavily like many other Black women in America.
However, the Hilltop prison hurdle was unlike any of Garrett’s past encounters. Instead of succumbing to her conditions, she finally chose to rise above it all and persevere through her situation.
“It changed my life,” she said. “God gave me a whole new outlook on life and let me see things clearer. I had an opportunity to clear my mind and free myself from the things I was going through in the streets.”
With a new laser focus, Garrett worked through her prison sentence and developed a different and more improved relationship with God compared to her adolescent years.
“I made a promise to God that I will never do those things again, and I kept that promise ever since,” she proclaimed.
Garrett was released on parole after serving a one-and-a-half-year sentence. The new release brought along new problems. After working a series of warehouse and call center jobs, the hair connoisseur longed for a profession that was fulfilling her personal and philanthropic needs.
Garrett said she decided to take a huge risk by becoming a cosmetologist and saved up all her earnings to open up her own accredited barber school in her community. In 2011, that dream became reality with the opening of Preparing People Barber and Styling College located in the Fair Park area, where Garrett’s anarchic past is rooted.
With a profitable business under her belt and her autobiography, From Hell to Hair to Millionaire: The Divine Journeys of Kea Garrett, underway, Garrett is now ready to share her experiences with the world in order to become the role model people need to teach them to never give up no matter what their circumstances are.
“Everything I’ve been through has been a lesson for me,” she said. “Just have faith in God and work hard. Faith without work is dead, so work hard for the things you want, and don’t do it the illegal way. It is a way. If God took me from all of that, he can do the same for you.”
On Jan. 22, Garrett will host a book signing for her memoir at 6 p.m. at Lofty Spaces, located at 816 Montgomery St. Proceeds will benefit her charity, South Dallas Kids Cabinet – an afterschool non-profit group that provides free meals, mentorship and summer programs to children in the South Dallas Fair Park Community. The group also offers a prison tour for at-risk children and college visits to prepare them for higher education.