Breaking Down the Cycle of Incarceration – Expanding Access to Opportunity

Breaking Down the Cycle of Incarceration – Expanding Access to Opportunity


Darris Young grew up in the Bay Area in the 60’s and 70’s, and, as a young child, was surrounded by images of the Black Panthers, social unrest and pictures of what he refers to as “Black pain and suffering.” He wanted to be part of the solution, so he entered the Richmond police force, but he says he was terminated because of his race. Hurt and anger began to cloud his decision making and, as a result, Darris found himself absorbed in a life that led to him to using drugs. This led to three trips to prison; his last arrest led to a sentence of twenty years.

While in prison, Darris learned about the Ella Baker Center’s ‘Books Not Bars’ campaign to stop Alameda County from building a “super Juvenile Hall”. He wrote to the Ella Baker Center, explaining his situation and seeking resources that would help him further his education while in prison.

After getting out in 2013, Darris saw a very different Bay Area. He was forced from one re-entry house to another while receiving a stipend of $500/month from the only part time work he could obtain because of his prison record. He once again came across the Ella Baker Center when reading about Zach Norris, their new Executive Director, and his goal of reducing the number of African American and Latino men going to prison. He contacted Zach, who encouraged Darris to apply for a part time organizer position. Six months after he was hired part time, Darris was promoted to a full time employee.

Three years later, Darris is working for Ella Baker full time, which gives him the opportunity to “throw down for my people.” He’s working to remove the barriers that people coming out of jail face and to reverse the misconceptions that people hold – showing instead that they can be successful and be a part of a safe, thriving community.  At the Ella Baker Center, he has been a vital resource for people just like him – those who are looking to make a sustainable living and integrate into society.

“We want a safer society but we keep people in the same box,” says Darris. “Don’t people deserve the chance to make a decent living? A lot of people are in jail because they don’t have opportunity in the first place.”

At The San Francisco Foundation, we invest in the Ella Baker Center in order to break down systemic barriers that so many people face. By providing fundamental resources like jobs and housing to Darris and many people like him, we believe that we can build a Bay Area in which everyone can thrive and reach their full potential.