as told to Andres Reyes
photo: Alyssa Castro
Editor’s Note: Proposition 47 is a California ballot measure that, if approved by voters on November 4, will reclassify six non-violent felonies, including petty theft and drug possession, as misdemeanors. The reclassification would reduce sentences and would be applied retroactively, resulting in early releases for tens of thousands of prisoners. Money saved by the state from reduced prison costs would be spent on drug and mental health treatment services, education programs for at-risk youth, and crime victim services.
Victoria Castillo, 31, recently volunteered with the Merced Organizing Project, to phone bank in support of Prop. 47. A self-described “system kid,” Castillo said her childhood experiences growing up in Merced are what inspired her to join the campaign to support Prop. 47. The first- person story below is transcribed from an interview with Andres Reyes, editor of We’Ced, a youth-led community media project of NAM.
I grew up in a really bad environment; it was really abusive in every way imaginable. I ended being a system kid in ’96 – I was on probation, in group homes, juvenile hall, all of that… I was court schooled in Fresno and Madera. I exited the system in July 2001, and I’ve been on my own ever since.
Now, I’m 31 and I advocate for victims of law-enforcement misconduct. I’m not anti-law, but [law-enforcement shouldn’t] abuse their power.
When you get incarcerated, more than likely if you’re not a violent person or a hardcore criminal, you’re going to come out with a negative mentality. It’s dangerous being inside of a jail. It costs a lot of money to house all those people and give them care. We should be turning it around — we could get them help; we could get them an education, because more people getting educated means less people getting incarcerated.
At an [event] over the summer, I heard MOP (Merced Organizing Project) organizer Crissy Gallardo talking about Prop. 47. Once I found out what it was, I was all for that, [so] I volunteered to phone bank.
It was really interesting phone-banking – I got upset, and I got emotional, and I got really happy. I got yes’s, and I got people telling me their stories, and I told them my story. You’re on the phone, not face to face, but you’re still talking to people in Merced and the Central Valley, so that was really awesome. I spoke to people that could relate – they’d tell me they’ve been there, or they’ve had a loved one or a relative that has been through this, or is still going through it.
Sometimes you get the people that are on the fence. The Sheriff’s Union is campaigning pretty heavily against Prop. 47 and I feel like there’s been some misinformation about [it]. I hear some people say it’s going to let child molesters and murderers out of jail and that’s just not true. Then you have some folks who flat out don’t care. They say they don’t want those people out on the street and we should lock them all up and that’s just how they feel. They’re entitled to their own opinion, [but] I just don’t agree.
I can relate to having a past [criminal] record work against me. Even [though] I am no longer in trouble, I’ve been denied [things] based on my juvenile record. I got denied a job at Target. I [got] fingerprinted so I could care for children as a job, but I got denied. I mean, it’s good to make sure children are safe, but I was trying to care for my cousin’s children – I was already watching them and [my cousin] wanted me to get paid for watching them. I couldn’t get cleared. I had to find three people to give me references, and I couldn’t find them. I gave up on that, and couldn’t watch my cousin’s kids. [My juvenile record] happened 13 years ago, and it’s still biting me in the butt.
I’ve also seen people that have been to prison or have been in jail and they come out, turn their life around, but they can’t find jobs. They can’t go to school because they have a felony – they can’t get financial aid, so they can’t afford to get an education. I don’t think it’s fair, especially for minor things, which is what Prop 47 will turn around.