When Joel Castón was arrested, he was only 18 years old. His previous experience made him well aware of the challenges that jails face. So he understood precisely what he was getting himself into when the Washington DC Jail called him to assist in the development of a mentorship program for 18 to 25-year-olds.
Joel founded Young Men Emerging (YME) with the purpose of supporting growth and development among young people by creating an equitable and therapeutic environment, as opposed to typical carceral institutions’ outmoded punitive and warehousing techniques, he wrote.
YME was established to give elderly people who have been detained for 15 years or more the opportunity to mentor young people aged 18 to 25 who have recently been incarcerated. In addition, the program provides counseling sessions, lecturers, case-by-case consultation, and financial literacy education.
To teach practical financial literacy, Joel designed a tangible monetary system with $5 and $100 bills saved as laminated paper. The monetary system allows inmates to make money, receive deposits, and have money deducted from their accounts.
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.’
After creating a mechanism for offenders to make money, Joel offered opportunities for the YME community to spend their hard-earned money. By pooling their finances, the mentors were able to purchase commissary supplies.
“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 asserts that he and his colleagues believe in YME money in the same manner that the government does. The YME money is valuable, and it is given out 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.
According to Business Insider, Joel is the first person in the history of Washington, DC, to be elected to public office while jailed. He was appointed to the D.C. Council while serving a 27-year sentence for murder. This year, there will be an advisory neighborhood commission. Joel now works as a commissioner to change the incarceration culture with the DC government, policymakers, advocacy groups, and nonprofits.
Joel was given parole in November after serving 26 years in prison.