MERIDIAN -- A local non-profit is using a prison cell to help prevent young people from landing in one.
The mobile maximum security prison cell is an interesting concept and tool that Second Chance Grace Inc. introduced at their fundraiser Friday night. Peter Vasquez, the executive director of Second Chance Grace, is hoping to use the mobile cell he built to help today's youth understand consequences before they face them.
Vasquez turned his life around after spending many years in prison. He is now using his background to help bring awareness and education to today's youth, who are surrounded by negative messaging and influences.
But Vasquez says he didn't build the Cell Project to be a scare tactic: while his goal is to show young people what not to do, he's also teaching them what they should do.
Vasquez hopes the cell will have a powerful, shocking effect on those who step inside what he says was his reality for years.
"It was very lonely, very sad. Very broken individual, I was," Vasquez said.
An enclosed trailer turned mobile maximum security prison cell.
"It's a two-man cell: toilet, bunk and a sink," Vasquez said as he was showing us around the cell. "A lot of people really go mentally insane in cells like this."
The cell is an exact replica, he says, of the one he lived in for about two years of his prison term in California, incarcerated because of gang involvement and violence.
"You eat in here, you sleep in here, 24 hours a day," he added. "I suffered consequences and I have a lot of regret in my life."
Audio of remorseful and regretful inmates plays as people are inside the cell, making the reality even more tangible.
"These are all walks of crime - from murder, to sex offenders, burglars, drunk drivers," Vasquez said.
"There's absolutely no privacy, no comforts in there whatsoever. It's heartbreaking," Jesse Saul, an 18-year-old who toured the cell at the fundraiser, told KTVB. "I don't think I could live in here for a day."
Vasquez started Second Chance Grace Inc. about 11 years ago; it's a non-profit working to provide prevention and intervention services to young people across the country and strives to give hope to at-risk youth and young adults through mentoring, gang prevention, tattoo removal, drug and alcohol counseling, re-entry support and individual case management.
The Cell Project is now a visual tool to help the organization touch the lives of today's youth, and open their eyes. Its goal is to send the message to young people that bad behavior and poor decisions, have consequences.
"This is such a wake up call," Saul added, "It's unbelievable."
But Vasquez is also sending the message that good decisions are rewarded, and he's hoping to teach kids what to say "yes" to.
"Stay in school, join sports, family, respect, stay away from pornography that's going on that's destroying a lot of our youth today," he added.
Second Chance Grace is hoping to guide today's youth toward being positive role models - and away from the correction system.
"I think that prevention is lacked in our schools today throughout the country," Vasquez added. "We want to go to every school in Idaho. That is our goal."
"This is something that kids are going to be able to take seriously. And that's the struggle these days," Saul added, "There's a real need for it."
Vasquez says everything on the inside and outside of the trailer was donated.
His vision for the Cell Project will start with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation assembly, followed by a tour of the mobile prison cell. Vasquez says it will first be introduced to young adults at an event in October at Boise State University.
Second Chance Grace also has a tattoo removal program that helps people get jobs or into the military, giving them a second chance at life.