Banned From the Barbershop

The quiet death of a fighter for civil rights

By this point, four years after leaving prison, many people would have already given up. It would've been easy for Marc to sell drugs again—and make enough money to move—but he was determined not to. Eventually, with Turner's help, he managed to find another subsidized apartment.

He continued to battle for a barber's license and found a lawyer to file a suit. And he kept searching for work, preparing yet another résumé and cover letter this past spring:

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is Marc LaCloche and I am desperately seeking employment. And I have been seeking employment for some time . . .

When I was released [from prison] I found that New York State would not issue me an official barber's license due to my incarceration. I spent years developing this skill so that when I came out I would have a marketable skill and would be able to be employed so that I could support myself, legally.

I have not let this legal snafu discourage me and while I am disappointed that I have not been able to capitalize on my training, I am still determined to be gainfully employed.

I have enclosed my resume for your consideration. If you have any employment that you feel I can be considered for, please contact me . . .

Marc turned 40 years old on September 14, and by then he seemed despondent. One day, Turner checked his voice mail and heard Marc sobbing into his machine. Turner thought he might be suicidal, and he dialed the police. "I don't think he was taking the medicine," Turner says. "I think he had started giving up." He had lost so much weight, Turner says, "he was a toothpick."

After Marc died, Turner found a funeral home in Harlem that would cremate his body for $700. The only problem was that Turner didn't have $700. He called a mutual friend named Fire, who cuts hair at a barbershop on West 38th Street. Fire passed the news of Marc's death along to the other barbers who knew him. The news stunned them all; Marc had never told them he had AIDS.

Turner didn't ask the barbers for money, and nobody offered any. He figured one of Marc's old girlfriends might be able to come up with the $700, but he didn't know any of their names. And he didn't think Marc had any other close friends. The city morgue usually holds bodies for two weeks, and—barring some sort of miracle—Marc's corpse will soon be on its way to Hart Island.

There, the men who dig his grave will be wearing the same uniform he once wore: the forest-green pants and jacket of the city jail system. Marc's body will be placed in a pine box and buried in a ditch with 149 others. There will be no gravestone with his name, nothing to indicate that he spent the last four years fighting for the right to cut hair.
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