LISTEN NOW to my guests, Darris Young and Taina Vargas-Edmond, on “About Health” KPFA.org, 94.1 FM
We discussed mass incarceration and how it poses a serious public health challenge. We addressed the health impact on prisoners and their families, and discussed mental health in the jail setting.
As State Advocate, Taina works to advance the goals of the Truth and Reinvestment Campaign, building the capacity of communities throughout the state of California to prevent and respond to state violence and mass criminalization through community organizing and coordinated rapid response.
Prior to joining the Ella Baker Center, Taina co-founded the Coalition for Jail Reform in Monterey County and worked for the California State Assembly, where she helped draft legislation aimed at helping state prisoners earn time off of their sentences while reducing their chances of returning to prison. Additionally, she has volunteered with several human rights advocacy groups, such as the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, Dignity and Power Now, and the Monterey Peace and Justice Center.
In his role as Local Organizer, Darris leads Ella Baker Center’s effort to build a coalition of families negatively impacted by the criminal justice system in the Bay Area. Darris brings to his current work past success as a certified addictions, domestic violence, and violence prevention counselor, and victim advocate with local organizations, including City Team International and Allen Temple Baptist Church. In addition, his experience as both a formerly incarcerated person and a police academy graduate give him a deep understanding of how the current justice system operates and where change is needed.
In January of 2008, while at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, Darris co-organized a prison-wide work stoppage in response to the loss of recreation privileges for inmates. Although it is prohibited for an inmate to organize or participate in a work stoppage, Darris and his co-organizers shut down the prison for more than five days and got the word out to other prisons, resulting in solidarity actions. Ultimately, the work stoppage prompted the warden at Solano and several in his top command to negotiate with inmates, and lessened the severity of the recreation privilege reduction.
His life has been shaped toward service and activism, first as a police officer and later as a counselor and advocate. Working with Black and Latino youth caught up in the criminal justice system is a particular passion for Darris, and he believes there is a role for every community member to play in creating a just, healthy, and prosperous future for all.