There is a curious barbershop on our military post, near where my husband goes to work each day. It has an inauspicious brick exterior and erratic hours. For the first couple months we lived here at Fort Leavenworth we tried to figure out how to get haircuts at this place… we had heard they were $4 apiece! My husband took our sons in a couple times and was told that they could only get their 30 minutes in a barber chair with an appointment. It seemed inconvenient, but we gave it a shot. The haircuts were good, the location is convenient and you can’t beat the price. Nonetheless, there was something strange about this barbershop.
The store is a perfect square, with one chair at each corner, and only three of them have barbers. One is vacant and I am allowed to sit in it with the squirming 2-year-old on my lap. The strangeness comes from the sameness of the barbers’ clothing — white t-shirts, nondescript pants with their last names stamped on them. Also, the fourth person in the shop is the man who sits at a reception-type podium and he is an active-duty military police sergeant. There is a huge sign that reads “Tipping not allowed.” It is all very surreal. Then, it dawned on me… these barbers are prisoners at the national disciplinary barracks here at Fort Leavenworth.
It appears to be some sort of reentry training for prisoners who have demonstrated good behavior and are at the end of their sentence. After realizing who these men were, I had a rush of mixed feelings. Wait, is this safe? What if all three of them ganged up? and where is the sergeant’s weapon? no where I can see. Then I had a revolution of the thought and remembered our Christian ideals of mercy and forgiveness. After all, it is a corporal work of mercy to visit the imprisoned, is it not? So now, I have taught my sons to thank these men by name, shake their hands and make eye contact. I ask the men where they are from, I pray for them while we are there and whenever I think of them throughout the week. I am grateful that we will have our haircuts in this bizarre spot for the year to come, it forced me to confront some prejudices I unwittingly held and also opened up my prayer channels to people who I am sure are quite forgotten by many.
Today’s first reading at Mass is about King David. It is from the book of Sirach and the author, Ben Sira, paints a glorious picture of King David. At first it seems a bit white-washed, it mentions nothing of his sinfulness, just his glorious triumph over Goliath and his devotedness to God. We don’t hear about his adultery with Bathsheba or any of his nasty murderous plots. David was an important part of the line that lead to the birth of our Savior, and nonetheless, he had his light and dark sides. God forgave him and he will forgive these hard-working men who show up day after day in generic shoes and government-issued glasses to humbly cut hair and attempt to turn the corner on their own sinful pasts.