South Jordan • LaDonna Young sat in the salon chair, drew her phone from her pocket and scrolled to a photograph of actress Julianne Hough.
“That’s the cut I want,” Young said.
It had been a year since Young’s last haircut, and she knew just what she wanted — curly, shoulder-length blond locks like Hough has worn on red carpets.
Young, 19, had come to the Kelly Cardenas Salon in South Jordan, where staffers have been giving free haircuts and massages to people who recently left polygamous sects.
For boys and men, it may be the first cut they’ve had in months, and it might be the first cut a girl or woman has had in a year or more, said Amanda Moncur, the stylist who trimmed and curled Young’s hair. The haircut is also a symbol of freedom.
In the sect, the clients were required, or at least encouraged, to keep their hair conservative, Moncur said — usually short and parted for the boys and men, and up or long and straight for girls and women. In Moncur’s chair, they have a chance for something more modern.
The experience is especially important for Moncur’s female clients, she said.
“It’s sacred for them to grow their hair out,” Moncur said. “So once you cut your hair, it’s your statement you’re not going back.”
Cardenas has other salons in Las Vegas, Chicago and Carlsbad, Calif. His parents are from Utah’s Tooele County. One of Cardenas’ great-grandfathers was a polygamist.
Cardenas hadn’t thought much about that heritage until a few years ago. A woman who had recently left a polygamous sect talked to him over the phone about the possibility of working at one of his salons. Cardenas said the woman described being married at age 13 or 14.
“It was amazing to me that stuff was happening in plain daylight,” Cardenas said.
Cardenas soon connected with Holding Out Help, an organization that assists people leaving polygamous groups. Most arrive at Holding Out Help with little or no money and needing employment. The organization directs them to Cardenas’ South Jordan salon when someone needs a haircut.
Young grew up as a member of the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group. She is the oldest of her mother’s 13 children, she said. Including her father’s other wives, she said, she has “about 30 siblings.” She isn’t sure of the exact figure.
“Me and my dad didn’t have the best relationship,” Young said. “He kept wanting to talk about the religion. He kept telling me I would go to hell if I left the church.”
Young said she was 14 when her father arranged for her to marry a 19-year-old man. At first, she was eager to be married. She got cold feet as she neared her birthday. Young said her father told her she had already agreed to the wedding. The day after she turned 15, Young married, according to the marriage license.
Young decided to leave the sect and her marriage at the end of 2016, she said. She’s now studying cosmetology.
When Young arrived at the salon Tuesday, with chest-length blond hair, she received a tour, was handed a robe and given a head and neck massage while her hair was washed. As she sat in the chair for her haircut, she and Moncur talked about her schooling and Utah’s process for licensing cosmetologists.
Moncur said some of the clients from Holding Out Help have been abused. She and the staff ask if they are comfortable being touched before starting a massage while they wash the client’s hair.
The clients also can be standoffish at first, she said.
“But when they leave, I see a little more openness and excitement,” Moncur said.
After about 45 minutes in the chair, Young’s hair was finished. Moncur passed her a hand mirror and spun the chair around so Young could see her front and back.
“Oh, my gosh!” Young exclaimed.