Joel Castón was 18 years old when he was imprisoned. His previous situation made him acutely aware of the difficulties that prisons face or endure. So when the Washington DC Jail contacted him to assist in the development of a mentorship program for 18 to 25-year-olds, he knew exactly what he was getting himself into.
Young Men Emerging (YME) was created by Joel with the goal of promoting growth and development among young adults by creating an equitable and therapeutic environment, as opposed to the old punitive and warehousing practices that characterize traditional carceral spaces, he wrote.
YME was created to allow older people who have been incarcerated for 15 years or more to serve as mentors to young people aged 18 to 25 who have recently been incarcerated. In addition, the program offers counseling sessions, hosts speakers, provides case-by-case advice and teaches financial literacy.
Joel created a physical monetary system with bills worth $5 and $100, each stored as laminated paper, to teach practical financial literacy. Inmates can make money, receive deposits, and have deductions from their accounts through the monetary system.
According to Business Insider, he wrote, “We built this system to ensure these young men become financially literate and confident about earning, spending, and saving money before reentry.”
He explained that after completing an assignment, inmates were paid. “For example, we have a program called community clean. I recently gave a man $500 for his community-cleaning efforts. I’d assigned him a special task: there was dust in our vents, so I told him, ‘Listen, take a look, get yourself a bucket, put some disinfectant in there, and get yourself a rag.’
Joel created opportunities for the YME community to spend their hard-earned money after he created a way for inmates to earn money. The mentors banded together to purchase commissary items by pooling their funds.
“This was especially motivating for people who didn’t have money from family or friends.” This has moved visitors to our community, including stakeholders, organizations, and volunteers. “Most significantly, someone made a significant donation, allowing us to purchase $5,000 in inventory for the YME store,” he explained.
Joel claims that he and his team believe in YME money in the same way that the government believes in the US dollar. The YME money has value, and it is rewarded when someone does something.
“They can use that money to buy something or try one of our other services.” My motto is that if you look good, you feel good, and you act good, so we have a barbershop. When a man has an outside visitor, such as family, he can now feel confident and well-groomed. “You spend $50 on a haircut, $25 on movie tickets, $100 on Xbox, and so on,” Joel explained.
Joel is the first person in the history of Washington, DC, to be elected to public office while incarcerated, according to Business Insider. While serving a 27-year term for murder, he gained a place on the D.C. advisory neighborhood commission this year. Joel now works as a commissioner with the DC government, policymakers, advocacy groups, and nonprofits to alter the incarceration culture.
After completing 26 years in jail, Joel was granted parole in November.