romise Stewart and Santonio Ford met 18 years ago, on a prison bus headed to a halfway house in Cleveland. They noticed each other’s edge-ups and began a conversation that changed their lives.

Stewart, now 58, had just served two years at the Mansfield Correctional Institution on drug charges. Before he was incarcerated, he operated a barbershop in Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.

Ford, now 48, was finishing a three-year sentence at the Richland Correctional Institution, less than a mile away, on a felonious assault charge. He wanted to become a barber as well, and was several credits shy of completing a state certification program at the prison before his release.

During the 90-minute drive to the Harbor Light Complex transitional facility, Stewart and Ford talked about using the barber skills they learned in their teens as a way to support themselves and stay out of trouble for good.

They shared ideas. They shared techniques. A brotherhood formed.

And they were able to beat the odds and land state-issued barber licenses, despite the many legal obstacles because of their convictions.

Ford and Stewart are just two of the nearly 2,000 people who return to Cuyahoga County each year from Ohio prisons and local jails, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. When formerly incarcerated people try to reintegrate into society, more than 1,600 laws and regulations often shut them out from employment, housing and educational opportunities.

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