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Youth Story – Mentors and Moosecats

The FLY Reentry Program is a pivotal 12-month initiative meticulously crafted to offer comprehensive support to young individuals during their community reintegration, addressing the unique challenges inherent in life post-incarceration. Reentering society is often formidable, marked by numerous obstacles that impede a smooth transition. Even routine tasks we take for granted may appear insurmountable hurdles. This program constantly evolves to provide practical assistance and nurture personal growth and development, making the challenges more manageable.

Navigating the world presents inherent challenges for just about everyone, and the complexities of reintegration act as a series of roadblocks to this journey. While the workshops and programs provided by the FLY Reentry Program serve as the initial steps on the path, our mentors’ dedicated and often unnoticed efforts supply the program with profound significance. These mentors work in tandem with our resilient youth, serving as guides through the intricate reintegration process. Take a moment to contemplate a task often taken for granted—such as the seemingly routine acts of visiting the post office or going to the bank. In today’s digital age, many can effortlessly open a bank account using their phones if they have online banking. The convenience of these tasks may lead us to overlook the intricate details that compose the fabric of this otherwise mundane routine. However, for those who spend their formative years within the system, initiating such tasks becomes a daunting challenge, leaving individuals needing a clear path and someone to assist.

For young folks like Donovan Castillero, a 25-year-old who first discovered FLY while still within the system, the true extent of FLY’s impact became apparent when determining his post-release path. In the six months since his release, Donovan has faced and conquered challenges that would have derailed most, even without the complications of reintegration. Recently, he graciously shared his transformative journey, highlighting the indispensable role played by the program and, particularly, his mentor, Adrianna, in his remarkable success.

Donovan shared how his time in the system created this blank space, especially during those crucial formative years. Try explaining an 8-year gap— not the most straightforward conversation, right? Even getting a simple state ID card turned into a mission. He needed crucial documents to get his state ID; without that piece of plastic, opening a bank account was a long shot. No bank account meant he couldn’t apply for an apartment, and without past addresses, landlords are reluctant to approve an application. Frustrating is an understatement.

But through Adrianna’s savvy guidance and the FLY Reentry program, Donovan found his bearings. Now, he’s casually hopping on Zoom calls from the comfort of his first apartment. It’s the kind of independence many of us don’t even think twice about, but Donovan and those who share his experiences know what a game-changer it is.

Many mentors are there because they are passionate about the work. Donovan spoke about the job’s thankless nature and how many overlook the invaluable work the mentors and case managers do. Donovan knows that whatever he needs, he can reach out to Adrianna, and she’s ready to help. Even now, six months into the 12-month program and well into the promising future he is building for himself, he and Adrianna will meet occasionally to check in and catch up. The mentors, including Adrianna, provide invaluable experience and advocacy. Donovan repeatedly expressed his gratitude for her help.

Donovan used to wake up at 5:30 am in his aunt and uncle’s home in Hollister and start his day by taking the train to Gilroy, followed by a walk to school. After school, he would walk to work. This journey would take him 45 minutes by car, but it took several hours by train and on foot. Fortunately, Adrianna helped Donovan by advocating for him with the probation office and ensuring he received a bus pass. Thanks to the guidance provided by FLY’s Reentry program, Donovan now has an apartment near all his responsibilities in San Jose and is only a short bus ride away.

Donovan’s determination is unquestionable. Despite the hours spent commuting multiple times a week, he remained dedicated to advancing his education. Having completed most of his general education requirements, Donovan only needed to wrap up a few more units for his transfer. With the invaluable assistance of academic advisors and Adrianna, he hit the ground running with school. Donovan completed a summer STEM intensive on top of the commute and work. Subsequently, he applied to prestigious universities, including his top choices—San Francisco State and the University of Silicon Valley, who eagerly accepted his application!

Donovan was beaming with pride as he announced that he would transfer to San Francisco State. Though the University of Silicon Valley is his dream school with his dream game design program, the cost of the private school made the decision easier to make, especially given that USV does not offer much in the way of scholarships. But to line that cloud with silver, at San Francisco State, the credits Donovan has accumulated will apply to his degree.

During the interview, Donovan’s enthusiasm was on full display, but nothing compared to how he lit up when asked, “What are some of your favorite video games?” He explained that he loved playing various video games and had difficulty choosing one.

“It’s the huge array of experiences someone can have playing a game,” Donovan explained after a few moments of thought. “Some of these really deep, emotional games have these amazing storylines… I just sat down to play a game, and I got taken on a roller coaster.”

That’s what drew him in, the storytelling. More than anything else, Donovan is a storyteller. Since he was young, he has been crafting stories and engaging with the ones told by others. He excitedly recounted the story of the first time he had experienced Dungeons and Dragons, the tabletop roleplaying game, “It was really interesting how sometimes we’ll be in the middle of this super serious campaign, and it’ll just breakdown into this really goofy moment where we’re all just laughing about it. It’s just, man, it’s amazing. All this is is just some paper and dice, and we’ve managed to create this whole story.” That co-creative storytelling inspired Donovan to begin telling his own stories through games. He is playing the games he loves, telling his stories, and experiencing it all through the perspectives of the people lucky enough to call themselves explorers of Donovan’s world. If they get fortunate in the game, they may even come across the gods of this world, Moosecats, named after Donovan’s childhood cat, Moose. It’s a touching tribute to the friend he lost.

His new apartment has brought an abundance of free time that Donovan can now devote to his passion for storytelling. Previously, the hours Donovan spent commuting multiple times a week left little time for creative pursuits. But now, with a shorter commute and a stable home environment, Donovan has the time and space to explore his creativity fully. It is only a matter of time before we see a “Donovan Castillero Original” released, Moosecats and all.

Donovan’s experience with the FLY Reentry Program is a testament to the significant impact that mentorship can have on the lives of young people. With the help of his mentor, Adrianna, Donovan has overcome numerous obstacles in only six months. He is now on a promising path toward achieving his future goals. His journey highlights the importance of providing comprehensive support and guidance to young individuals during their reintegration into society.

We strongly encourage those passionate about assisting young people in overcoming life’s challenges after incarceration to explore FLY’s mentoring programs. By joining these programs, you can become a guiding force for positive change in a young person’s life.