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The long journey home: Daniel Villegas
By: Genevieve Curtis
EL PASO, Texas -- Daniel Villegas' friends and family made sure his release from prison would be a day he would never forget.
They invited KFOX14 along on the journey as they caught up on missed holidays, and Daniel experienced so many things for the first time.
The world was a much different place nearly two decades ago.
"I was just in awe, at awe of everything," Villegas said.
It was 1995 when Villegas went to prison, and that's the last reality of the world outside of prison that Villegas remembers.
He used a cellphone and an iPad for the first time. When he finished his first call on an iPhone, he handed it off asking, "How do you turn this off?"
He learned how to Google himself and found he's pretty popular on the Internet. He got to see all the news stories about himself, and he finally got to see what all this Facebook talk is all about.
"I had heard about it, but this was my first time actually seeing what Facebook is like," Villegas said laughing.
His first stop after release from prison was church, and then a big steak lunch where he led his family and friends in prayer. He thanked God for freedom and prayed for victims of wrongful convictions.
Driving around, Villegas said he couldn't believe how much his hometown has grown in nearly 20 years.
"It's humongous," he said. "Over there by, what do they call it? Trans-mountain? It was nothing but desert before. They've got Walmarts now, all these different stores. That just was mind-boggling," he said.
He was also surprised by all the colors. "El Paso did not have this much color. The color, the architecture, everything, wow," he said.
Then it was time to go to his new home.
The street his family now lives on was just desert when he went to prison.
"It's beautiful," said Villegas before walking into his home.
Above he door the sign read, "Welcome Home Daniel."
Villegas immediately found his room and flopped down on the bed.
"Oh, when I got to lay down on the bed; I'm used to a 2-inch cot with bumps. When I laid down, I almost got sucked up into that mattress; that felt good," said Villegas.
Villegas missed spending Christmas with his family by just a few weeks and his 37th birthday by just a few days. His family decided to recreate the holidays for him Tuesday.
The family Christmas tree was still up and colorful presents just waited to be unwrapped.
Local businessman Fred Loya left the holiday lights on for Daniel so he could experience a little Christmas spirit.
Villegas said family is what helped him get through those long 18 years.
His family and friends sang happy birthday to him, and a birthday cake symbolized all those years he went without one. Villegas blew out the big candle on his first birthday cake in years; his biggest wish had already come true.
But there's more Villegas said he wants to do, including helping those wrongfully convicted and reaching out to young people.
"I would love to help these kids out. Get them off the street before they have to go and do 19 years for something they didn't do or even 19 years for something they did do. To stop that because I know exactly that bump in the road, and I want to stop it from getting to that bump," said Villegas.
Villegas said getting to know his daughter is his main priority, and he also wants to get his drivers license.
Through all the celebration, Villegas and his supporters said it's important to remember there are still two victims -- two teens who don't get to hug their parents, embrace new technology and enjoy the simple things in life.
Villegas said he hopes there will be justice for them someday as well.