CHICAGO -- Barber Larry Roberts knows what goes into a good hair cut.
He says he got the buzz for barbering at age 13 when he purchased his first pair of clippers and started cutting his own hair. Soon, he would be cutting hair for friends and relatives.
Today, Roberts is the proud owner of Larry’s Barber College with the main location on the city’s South Side. There, he and his team teach students how to become a professional barber.
"My students that are barbers have to learn about color, they have to learn about relaxing, they have to learn about rollers, they have to do electricity and light therapy."
Students also learn the business aspect, money management and more.
"He’s already a mentor, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of the students in the school and just the things they were sharing with me as far as the life skills that he’s deposited, the encouragement that he has given," said student Victor Love.
Eight years ago, Roberts decided to take that encouragement perhaps to the people who need it most -- inmates at the Cook County Jail -- where he now runs a college (without pay) to those looking for an opportunity to better their circumstances.
Ken is an inmate who is training to be a barber instructor. He has been incarcerated for more than two years. He hopes to be released soon and says barber college is preparing him for life beyond the jail wall.
"I necessarily didn’t have hope for the future, but now that I have a trade, I think I have a fair shot of being productive when I get out of here," he said.
Ken says Roberts has been a friend and a father figure
"He’s been a tremendous confidence booster, especially being here so long sometimes I get discouraged," he said.
"I wanted to give alternatives to violence, so I suggested, 'Can I put my barber school inside the Cook County Jail?' So that way when the guys are in there they can get their training, locked up in jail but when they get out they can go straight to work."
Michael Moore took the course while incarcerated in 2015
"Meeting Larry was one of the best things that happened to me, because it gave me the skills," he said. "It gave me something to do, something positive to do and stay out of trouble and he’s been nothing but a positive influence on me from the day I met him.”
"It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Roberts, either. At age 19 he owned his own barber shop. It quickly went down hill from there. His business struggled and his personal life was in turmoil. He says at one point he contemplated suicide. He even wrote a book about it, called “Suicide Is Not The Answer.” Now, years later, Roberts says he works hard to share his life lessons.
"If I can help you not make the same mistakes I made, then I want to do that," he said.
For those who’ve made mistakes, there’s plenty of inspiration.
"It feels good to get help, so whenever I’m in a predicament where I can help somebody I’m gonna be able to do the same," Moore said.
Roberts gives in other ways too, offering free haircuts for senior citizens and children in need.
Larry Roberts -- he’s one of Chicago’s Very Own
Roberts has his barber's license in 22 states and hopes to expand one day worldwide.