Inmate Raises a Ruckus over Forced Haircut

An inmate in Portsmouth City jail was recently surrounded by an emergency response team who wore masks and carried electric shock shields and guns then strapped into a chair. The reason for this forcible action against him? He needed a haircut.

Bernard Montoria Garris had spent the last 13 years growing his dreadlocks down to his waist. He has been in jail several times over the years in both Portsmouth and Chesapeake but has never been asked or forced to cut his hair before. He had been in Portsmouth City jail for 13 months before anyone told him that there was a rule that inmates have to have short hair.

Sheriff Bill Watson who runs the Portsmouth City jail says that it is and has been a long standing jail policy for prisoners to have short hair. He began enforcing the policy just the week before Garris received his haircut. Jail officials have been concerned about prisoners hiding contraband in their hair, so in the interests of safety and hygiene haircuts became mandatory for all inmates.

On May 10 Garris was first told about the jail policy requiring all prisoners to have short hair. A captain from the sheriff's department told him he and the other inmates would need to visit the barber that week. Garris told the captain he would not have his hair cut.

As punishment for refusing a direct order, Garris was placed in segregation where he was told that he would spend 30 days. The next day the sheriff paid him a visit and asked if he was ready for his haircut. Garris again flatly refused.

Garris was the only inmate at Portsmouth City jail who refused to have his hair cut. His waist long dreadlocks, he says, were a symbol of his Rastafarian religion. They also covered scars from gunshot wounds on the back of his head. Since he refused to cut his hair the sheriff took special action against him and had him restrained while his dreadlocks were shaved off.

Patches of hair still remained on his scalp after the heavy duty haircut so the next day Garris had his head shaved completely bald.

Shortly after the incident Garris filed an inmate grievance form saying that he felt that his life was in danger and that he feared bodily harm at the hands of prison employees. He added that he had argued with Sheriff Bill Watson and afterwards was punched by a deputy.

Garris was transferred to another facility shortly after filing the grievance form.

Prison rules regarding hairstyles of inmates vary greatly from facility to facility and there are also differences in the federal and state prison system rules.

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