Hanging on to humanity
When Velasquez arrived, the prison was in the process of separating children from the adult population, who previously lived together. With a new facility specifically for youth, Velasquez was tasked with providing them an education. Using magazines and donated textbooks, Velasquez engaged kids in critical thinking exercises and discussions. But his job was more than just teaching.
“In a lot of ways, it was similar to what I do here [at Mercy Home] — which is listen, form relationships, see where I can help expand someone’s world view,” he said. “And in that situation, I realized that a lot of the kids in prison would lose some of their humanity. And I think that that’s just the nature of what happens in prison.”
While he stimulated their minds and distracted them from their surroundings, Velasquez also made sure these imprisoned children stayed connected to the outside world. He could not allow them to lose their sense of humanity.
“When they would ask me for favors, like going to see family or delivering letters or things like that – I took that really seriously,” said Velasquez. “I travelled around the country visiting these kids’ families. I remember one kid, he wanted his mom to send a birthday cake – and there was something so simple about that, like, ‘I want to feel like I still have a mother who cares about me enough to recognize my birthday by baking a cake.’”