Y Escalar: Documenting “Prison Communities” in Rural California

Yehuda Sharim
Global Art Studies Program
UC Merced

Y Escalar reflects on the changing facets of everyday life in the rural complexes of Coalinga, Merced, and McFarland, California, as these communities negotiate the construction and conversion of prison facilities in their midst. Y Escalar is an oral history film about how rural America seeks to rebuild itself through the prison industry and about the compromises, tensions, and sacrifices that this pursuit engenders. It shows how the freedom for some to pursue life, liberty, and happiness is socially and materially dependent on the punishment and privation of liberty for others. The film’s title, Y Escalar (And Climb…), points to these tensions by documenting the narratives and stories of rural residents in towns with large prisons. Y Escalar reflects the resilience, determination, and resignation of the rural poor—mostly migrants—who must continually fight for belonging and the right to live without the threat of punishment or displacement. In this way, the film recounts an American story of immigration. In so doing, it documents the human cost of neoliberal development in rural communities. By looking at the past, Y Escalar portends the future of rural America, one that is increasingly dependent on incarceration, criminalization, and securitization.