Renegade Stuggles: Gregorio Castro


Miranda Defoor

Gregorio Castro, 35, after sharing his struggles before becoming a BC student.

Miranda Defoor, Reporter

In the summer of 2017, current Bakersfield College student Gregorio Castro, 35, tried to enroll in summer courses for the first time. Enrolling in college for the first time is a struggle for all students, but it was especially hard on Castro after being incarcerated for decades.

Castro was incarcerated from age 16, when he was tried as an adult, until age 27. At 27, he was only free for a few months. He later went back until he was 33. During his time out, he went through even more, like losing his brother and being shot multiple times.

It wasn’t until Castro met James Tompkins, another BC student who helped create the group on campus called Free on the Outside (FOTO), at an anger management course, that he thought things could change.

Although Castro’s time trying to enroll at BC was a difficult one, he said after meeting Tompkins and becoming involved with FOTO, it became much easier.

FOTO is a small group with only seven members, but they are tight-knit. FOTO keeps in contact closely with each other and even go to check on one another when someone is absent from school.

“Some of us may have previous alcohol or drug abuse issues,” and some of them are on parole or probation, Castro said, so they keep tabs on each other and help keep each other motivated.

When Castro was released the second time, at 33, he wanted to change. He said nothing but strong will and inspiration from within will help to keep people from doing the wrong thing and staying off the street.

His inspiration the second time around was his son, who is now 4. “If I fail, he suffers,” Castro said. He wants his son to be able to look up to him and he doesn’t want the same life he led for his son and his family. Castro wants to be a positive influence for those around him.

“It is easier to give up than to do the right thing,” according to Castro, saying that he has to have a lot of self-motivation to succeed because of his past. “You have to overcome self-doubt and thinking you can’t do it.”

But no lack of motivation or self-doubt has stopped him or anyone he knows from FOTO, “We have a lot more to prove to ourselves and to others. There is a fire lit under us,” Castro said, “If we mess up, we go back to jail.”

Though there are people who don’t want to see Castro succeed, as well as those who think he can’t do well based on appearances. He said there is a stigma attached to being in FOTO and to being previously incarcerated. Even one of his professor’s shared with Castro that he didn’t expect Castro to do well in the class when they first met.

When Castro started his first semester at BC there was a big culture shock. After being incarcerated for a long period of his adult life, and losing his brother after being released, he had a lot to get acclimated to.

“It was awkward for the first couple weeks,” Castro said. “I stick out with my tattoos, and I’m tall.”

But, he started to get involved in activities. “Being involved on campus is a big thing. It keeps me from being on the streets. All the effort I put into getting into trouble [before], I put into doing positive things.”

Castro is an activities leader for the Student Government and Activities, an Inter-College Council representative and said being involved turned into “a snowball, but in a good way.”

Castro hopes to be a counselor for at risk youth and help younger students who may be in the position he was once in.