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Hair stylist's dream: Solve crimes

[Editor's note: This is the first in a mini-series of features speaking with some of the familiar faces around Woodbury.]

By day, you'll find her chatting with customers as she styles their hair at Great Clips in Tamarack Village.

On the evenings, however, Jenny James is to be found poring over her books, studying for her bachelor's degree in criminal justice so she can become a crime scene investigator, a job made popular by the hit TV show CSI.

Indeed, CSI is one of James' two favorite TV shows (the other is Deal Or No Deal), and viewing is one of the few things for which she'll take a break from work or studies.

Not that the TV show was the main factor for her entry back into the education system.

"It was only a few years after graduating from beauty school that I saw this documentary," explained James, who is 36.

"It was when DNA really started getting big and they started realizing everything they could do with it and all the different things they could collect DNA off of, and how DNA is almost like a fingerprint.

"They started talking about crime scenes and I saw these people come in and process the crime scene, and I was absolutely fascinated. It is something I have been thinking about ever since.

"Then the [CSI] shows started, which didn't help any!"

On top of her 38-hour work week at Great Clips, James, who lives in a townhouse in Woodbury, completes 40 hours a week of homework through her degree program at Century College.

After she transfers to the University of Phoenix next year to continue with her program, she expects to take on a second job, performing data entry from home for a couple of hours a day to earn a little extra.

James acknowledges she has to be disciplined to get it all done, but admits that occasionally, when it's sunny out and a friend calls, she'll take a few hours out to relax on the patio at Boston's.

Through all the hard work and long hours, she's keeping focused on why she's doing it.

"If people are going to continue to do bad things to each other and treat people so badly, I want a chance to help find out who did it and make them go to jail and have justice be done," she said.

It's not been an easy path for the stylist who's been in the beauty business for almost 20 years now.

James grew up in St. Paul, but moved out to Glencoe, Minn. (40 miles west of Eden Prairie), at the age of 10 with her mom after her parents got divorced.

After graduating early from high school in Glencoe ("It's pretty rural"), James moved straight back to St. Paul and graduated from beauty school the same year, getting married soon after.

After working for a number of different salons, a couple of years of running her own salon in Shakopee, and about 15 years of marriage, James and her husband divorced -- and life, in a sense, started again.

Moving back in with her parents in Woodbury for awhile, James decided now was the time to pursue her long-held dream of becoming a crime scene investigator, enrolling in the criminal justice degree program at the same time as holding down a job at Great Clips.

The salon has proved a good workplace since September 2006, with both customers and colleagues making it a pleasure to come to work, according to James.

"We're generally a pretty busy salon," she added. "The people in Woodbury have been very good to us.

"We have a lot of regulars and it's just so much fun every time they come in.

"The girls that we work with have a great chemistry. We all just mesh together so well, and I really think that when the clients come in, they sense that."

As she's considered the future beyond her studies, James concedes it will be hard to leave behind the profession that is all she's known since leaving school.

"I'm going to have to wean myself off it, I think," she smiled. "This time next year I will have my associate's degree, and I would like to do something related to my degree with it.

"I'm going to be hanging up my shears, and then I thought, well, maybe I will work every other weekend -- I don't know if I can give it up completely."