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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kootenai County Jail stylist cuts hair for criminals from thieves to murderers

A pair of shears around uncuffed inmates inside the Kootenai County Jail sounds precarious.

But longtime cosmetologist Leticia Serrano is used to the risk.

Once a month, Serrano makes the morning trek from the Silver Valley to Coeur d’Alene to cut the hair of a spectrum of criminals at $13 a pop.

Serial DUI offenders, small-time drug peddlers, rapists, murderers: Serrano has grazed the necks of each.

Her chitchat with the inmates is often idle, but she said she’s developed a rapport with many misdemeanor offenders over the years, clients who can’t seem to elude the extended stays at the gray bar hotel.

Each pays Serrano out of pocket, selecting from a catalog of styles, not much different than Supercuts, Serrano’s day job.

In this setting, though, a guard looks over Serrano and her set of sharp styling tools, and the jail suit-clad clients aren’t permitted to hold the mirror following the cut.

“You can tell pretty quick if they want to talk to you or not,” Serrano said. “When they do, a lot of them want to tell me their side of the story, which is often a lie. I don’t press them. A lot of them just want someone to talk to because they’ve been away from people for a while.”

Some of Kootenai County’s most infamous criminals have been under Serrano’s blades, the most recent being convicted cop killer Jonathan Renfro.

Renfro, who was sentenced to death for the 2015 shooting of Coeur d’Alene police Sgt. Greg Moore, was often polite.

Serrano was disgusted by his crime and surprised by the request of one of his defense attorneys, who gave her a laminated photo of Justin Bieber in the days preceding his trial.

“The attorney wanted him to have a Justin Bieber haircut for the trial,” Serrano said. “And they wanted me to do it for free, which I refused. I still have that picture. Other inmates have laughed at it.”

She also cut the hair of Joseph Duncan, now on death row for the 2005 kidnappings and murders of members of the Groene family just east of Coeur d’Alene.

Duncan, Serrano said, was one of just five inmates she’s ever seen handcuffed while getting their haircut, and “several deputies” were always around.

“The first time I cut his hair, (Duncan) asked me if I lived around here and I just blurted ‘No!’ ” Serrano said. “Every day on my drive to Coeur d’Alene, I drive past the house he did the killings near Wolf Lodge.”

One time, Serrano said, she was faced with the killer of her friend and client, former area basketball standout Tim Wolfe, who was shot in downtown Coeur d’Alene in 2009.

It was the only time she pressed an inmate.

“That was my friend. Why did you do that?” she said she asked the man, Juan C. Aldana Villanueva, who was sentenced to 28 years in prison. “He just went quiet.”

She’s been cutting hair since high school and first began cutting inmates’ hair more than 20 years ago at the Kootenai County Juvenile Detention Center.

Serrano still cuts hair at the juvenile detention center, where she said many of the kids are “rude and disrespectful” to adults.

At the JDC, Serrano, said, there are haircut guidelines, such as not cutting shorter than an inch or doing a cut that would make them stand out among their peers.

One juvenile inmate, convicted killer Eldon Samuel III, made a request Serrano wasn’t about to give before his trial.

“He asked for a Hitler haircut,” Serrano said. “Of all the people I’ve given haircuts to, that kid weirded me out the most.”

In 2014, Samuel III riddled his father with bullets at their Coeur d’Alene home before stabbing his autistic 13-year-old brother to death.

Some of Serrano’s longtime clients from her day job have also had their hair cut by her in jail, she said, including Kyle Odom, the man who shot Pastor Tim Remington six times in 2016 because he believed he was an alien.

Odom was a regular at Supercuts as a kid, Serrano said.

“He was like, ‘Hey, Tisha, it’s me, Kyle. I am going to prison.’ ”

When Serrano first started out cutting hair in jails, she said, it took a few runs before she began to get comfortable. Cutting women’s hair in jail isn’t as intimidating – most of the woman she cuts in jail on drug charges, she said.

The weirdest haircut request?

“This guy thought he was a scorpion and wanted his hair cut in the shape of a scorpion,” Serrano said. “I said ‘This ain’t Animal Planet, dude.’ ”

Many of the inmates have become her customers at her Supercuts location in Coeur d’Alene, where she is the manager, after they are released.

“A couple have really turned their lives around and have good jobs and families,” she said.