California Knights bring Christlike service to youth detention facility
By Elisha Valladares-Cormier
Deacon Fidel Carrillo, a member of St. Anthony’s Manteca (California) Council 10693, has a passion for bringing the good news of God’s love and redemption to a segment of society who desperately need it: people, especially young people, in prison.
For more than two decades, Deacon Carrillo, restorative justice liaison for the Diocese of Stockton, has ministered to incarcerated persons in San Joaquin County, an area with the state’s highest rate of violent crime. He also served for several years as chaplain to the Northern California Youth Correctional Center, a facility for male offenders from 14 to 25 years old in Stockton, 75 miles east of the San Francisco Bay.
His motivation, he said, is “to bring the mercy and compassion of our Lord in order to restore the human dignity to those who have been marginalized by society.”
Over the years, the deacon’s brother Knights in Council 10693 have supported his prison work in various ways, including purchasing rosaries and raising money for a few initiatives at the center. However, they were eager to find a way to do more — to, as Grand Knight Jory Kusy put it, “get out of the pews and put our words into action” by visiting the young inmates.
The Knights found their opportunity in January, when Deacon Carrillo asked the council to help provide a barbecue meal for the 341 inmates and 268 staff members at the correctional center. A Knight who owns a local restaurant offered to cater the meal at a steep discount. Still, a $5,000 grant Deacon Carrillo had received would cover only part of the meal’s costs, so the council helped raise an additional $2,000.
There were other obstacles to overcome. Every Knight helping to serve the meal was required fill out a flurry of forms and undergo a full background check. All the food to be served — which included tri-tip, scalloped potatoes and more — had to be approved by the warden. Additionally, the council had to purchase very specific utensils that couldn’t be made into weapons. But the Knights persevered through the red tape.
“We all saw this as something worthy of our time and effort,” Kusy said. “If Christ carried all of our crosses, we could do something as small as this.”
On Jan. 27, several Knights brought the meal, which included accommodations for youth who couldn’t eat beef due to their religious beliefs, to the facility. Some of the young men helped to serve the meal, and several others told the Knights how much they appreciated their efforts.
It was a profound experience for the Knights, Kusy said, and they plan to continue finding ways to serve the young men in the facility.
“We’ve done a lot of the same stuff for years because it’s helped so many people,” he said, “but we also want to try doing more. We are going to have to be here for these men, to help them succeed in life, if we want to see a change in the world.”
Deacon Carrillo agreed that Knights of Columbus are in a position to make a difference in the inmates’ lives.
“The Knights have a wonderful opportunity to be mentors to young men who are incarcerated,” he said. “A large percentage of them don’t have a male figure in their lives, so to encounter men who care for them, who can be understanding, compassionate and nonjudgmental, can really go a long way.”
Elisha Valladares-Cormier is associate editor of Columbia and a member of Sandusky (Ohio) Council 546.