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A Cut Above: Wrongfully Convicted Man Opens Barber College With His Former Prison Guard

Legacy Barber College owner Juan Rivera met his business partner Bobby Mattinson in an unusual place—prison.

Mattinson (left) and Rivera (right) / Screenshot WGN9

Mattinson was one of the prison guards at Stateville Correctional Center, where Rivera was fighting for his freedom, wrongfully convicted for rape and murder offenses that he did not commit. While serving time, Rivera daydreamed of what his life could look like if he was exonerated. 

According to Block Club Chicago, Rivera and Mattinson bonded at the barbershop within the prison, where Rivera would get a fresh cut before his court appearances. Mattinson not only served as a guard, he also was the barber shop coordinator. While Rivera worked to clear his name, Mattison helped him obtain his barber’s license and the two discussed the possibility of opening a barber school together.

When Rivera’s conviction was overturned in 2012, it was historic. After new evidence appeared that proved that he was not responsible for the rape and murder of the 11 year old babysitter Holly Staker, Rivera sued and was awarded an incredible $20 million settlement from Lake County, Illinois, and the City of Waukegan. It remains the largest wrongful conviction settlement in US history.

Screenshot WGN9

Using his settlement money, Rivera and Mattinson were finally able to open the cosmetology school that they had dreamed of- recently opening a location in the Chicago neighborhood of River Park. The business owners aim to give others caught up in the justice system a chance toward a successful career and life.

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“This started, believe it or not, in prison. I saw a need. We want to help the less fortunate. Because once they get out, they usually have nothing to fall back on.”

JUAN RIVERA, via Block Club Chicago

Legacy Barber is open to the public, offering discounted haircuts to patrons, allowing an opportunity for someone to break into the industry and gain real-world experience.

After 30 years working in the criminal justice system, Mattinson was aware of the immense impact that Legacy Barber could offer.

“We lock them up well, but what do we do to help them get back on their feet? I see these guys coming in and out. I knew I wanted to do something to help them. I say to these guys, ‘Hair care is a $50 billion industry. If you give a great cut and service, no one is asking about your background.’”

BOBBY MATTINSON, via Block Club Chicago

It is shear madness that things worked out this way!

Written by Abigale Racine