Castillo is one of several community members participating in solidarity with loved ones behind bars. Her husband, Richard Castillo, is currently being held at Merced County Jail while he fights charges of evasion. He’s been there since early 2013 and is facing life, partially due to gang enhancements which can add years and even decades to a sentence.
Everyday my dad is in that jail, I fear he may die because of harsh treatment prisoners are subjected to. This month inmates in prisons around the country, including where my dad is incarcerated, went on a hunger strike to protest the cruel treatment they receive. I wanted to go on hunger strike too, but my mom says that I am too young. She has joined the strike for me and has not eaten since September 9th.
Perhaps most importantly, the Youth Council provides Merced’s teens with an opportunity to represent their fellow youth. By building up their leadership skills, the program is empowering many to consider how they’ll wield that voice in the future.
The opportunities for employment available to young people within Merced are very limited, said Michelle Xiong, youth coordinator with Building Health Communities Merced. Besides working in the fast food industry, very few jobs are marketed to teens and young adults.
Messages promoting better access to health care, educational opportunities and minority representation among local government bodies also made an appearance but the key issue for many leaders was an end to the criminalization and incarceration of minority communities.