PHOTO ESSAY: Choice & Consequence

A PLACE TO REFLECT: Monica Villa shows off a T-shirt with an image of her son, Jonathon Lee Conlee, inside her spacious tent at the former "Tent City" encampment along Black Rascal Creek and the Santa Fe railroad tracks in the summer of 2010. Jonathon died on the same tracks on Sept. 21, 2006, just a couple miles south in Central Merced. Villa breaks down in tears when she tells the story of how two young ladies saw Jonathon, 25, on the tracks and yelled at him to come down. She says they told her Jonathon was distraught, and didn't listen to their cries, and the massive freight train ran him down. Over the last three years, Villa says she was most happy living in Tent City. Her original living space featured a donated homemade quilt by local resident Virginia Wagner, a guest tent, a front deck made of wood pallets, a vegetable garden, and a kitchen/BBQ area. Her biggest complaint, before the city eviction notices came, was the "damn train that comes loaded down around 4 a.m." She said it would shake her tent and wake her up in a startled state. The city enforced a "no-camping" ordinance in November of 2010 and Tent City was no more. Villa was the last to leave — arrested and in the custody of police. (TIMES PHOTO BY JONATHAN WHITAKER)

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