As men with heads of all shapes and sizes enter his barber shop at 15th and G streets in Northeast Washington, Killman Weaver doesn't worry about which one is a college kid heading back to school or which one just moved into the D.C. Department of Corrections halfway house across the street.
Weaver devotes the same attention to all customers, holding each skull firmly and concentrating on every knot, lump and curve. In his view, there is not much difference between those labeled good boys and bad boys, "except for the grace of God." And he does what he can to help both, making allowance for character differences, just as he does for differences in cranial contours.
"Some of these heads are pretty hard to get straight," he says, sharpening a razor. "But if you look at them from different angles, you can generally cut a pretty good line."
Weaver, 76, has been trying to get heads straight in this neighborhood near the Hechinger Mall for more than 35 years, offering advice and financial aid to dozens of friends and customers. So, when a halfway house opened in 1975, he saw it as simply a new source of clients in need.
Many other neighbors of the facility looked upon it as an influx of criminals who had to be dumped somewhere and who brought fear and tension to their neighborhood. And those anxieties have only grown as the city began transferring more inmates to relieve court-prohibited overcrowding at the D.C. Jail.
It is likely that both angles are correct, but Weaver has the edge because he is one of the few people in the neighborhood who ever comes in contact with the inmates. When the prison van arrives to drop off newcomers to the halfway house, most residents see it as a reminder of the undesired presence in the neighborhood.
Weaver welcomes them in for a haircut and shave.
"They want to get themselves together, like everybody else," he says.
"Maybe it's because I have seen so many young men, but I can tell from the way they sit in the chair that they all got something going on in their heads. They all need help, and some just don't get it until it's too late."
Weaver's belief that most of the halfway house residents are essentially men who made mistakes and got caught is borne out by statistics from the Department of Corrections, which show that 63 percent of the inmates transferred to halfway houses eventually go on to become productive citizens.
This is remarkable, given the backgrounds that most of them have: the broken homes, the poor education, the poverty.
In the wake of nine escapes from halfway houses since the new round of transfers began, and the mistaken reassignment of one murder suspect, the public's confidence is understandably shaken. In reality, though, most of these men apparently want mainly some time with their girlfriends or wives, which is where they are eventually caught.
"A lot of men get into different things -- me, I sold whiskey when I was young," said Weaver's friend, Robert Perrin, 69, who lives on the street. "But when they do time, and grow old thinking about what they did, some of them change their minds and go on to do good things."
The scores of young mothers who live in the neighborhood say they fear most men in their midsts, not knowing who is a halfway-house resident.
Their strongest complaint is that the halfway house is somehow a "bad influence" on their children, who see men being brought in and hauled away about twice a week.
But Weaver notes that many of the inmates came out of the neighborhood long before a halfway house was located there.
"It's cycle that has to be broken someplace," Weaver says.
"I feel the neighborhood is the place to do it. It's not our job to learn to cope with these guys. Our job is to show them how to live with us.