Simulation educates about challenges of re-entry

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Lyna Worles, a Lycoming College junior, holds her pretend child during an interactive simulation show the roadblocks people face after they are released from prison. The program was held at the Lycoming College recreation center in Williamsport.

Lycoming College students and volunteers from the community got to experience first-hand the roadblocks that people returning to society after serving time in jail or prison face as they participated in a re-entry simulation at the college Tuesday.

Conducted by the Franklin County Re-entry Coalition, the purpose of the event was to educate people in the community, introduce them to what services are offered to those in the process of re-entry and also to reduce the stigma around being identified as a former convict, according to Dr. Kim Eaton, from the coalition.

“We hope to motivate you and your community to do things differently,” she told the group.

“I think it really opens people’s eyes to a lot of the barriers people face when they’re coming out of jail and re-entering back into the society. A lot of people are aware of some of the barriers, for instance language barriers and employment and transportation issues. There’s a lot of things these people face that we take for granted,” said Dan Hoover, also with the coalition.

The 60 or so participants were given a family story and props, such as dolls to signify if they had children. They were also given a home sign to place on the floor next to their chairs so that they would know where they lived once they left for the day to complete tasks which were assigned.

“We give them the scenario to their circumstances. Some of them have addiction issues, so they’re required to go to treatment providers. Some of them have child care issues, so they have to take their children to child care or to children and youth before they can come to employment. So, it really does simulate some of the problems that the people face,” Hoover said.

Participants were cautioned that they needed to feed their families and continue to maintain shelter. They were also given a list of probation stipulations that were required to be completed.

“You need to complete all those stipulations,” Eaton stressed, “if you don’t, you will be returning to jail.”

The event took place at the college’s gym which had tables around the outside to simulate various destinations for the re-entering convicts. School and childcare, mortgage and housing, food and transportation were some of the stops that the group had to make, depending on their scenario. There were also tables representing a bank, children and youth workers, a community action center, a bail bonds site, a place to get replacement IDs and faith and recovery communities as well as treatment providers such as medical and mental health centers.

The time was divided into four timed segments to represent weeks with a break in between for weekends. The group was tasked with completing the items on their list during the 15-minute time periods. After they completed their first “month” of re-entry the group was debriefed on their experience.

One issue that many faced was the lack of transportation, which they needed in order to go to their job or to take their child to daycare. Another common problem was loss of identification which they needed to do everything.

When asked how many of the volunteers were frustrated after trying to complete all the tasks, nearly everyone of the participants raised their hands. Some admitted that they had resorted to illegal activities in order to support themselves.

“How many of you did something you didn’t anticipate that you would do,” Eaton asked. Again quite a few raised their hands and said that they had run out of money, so they stole transportation passes and other things to get by.

“This is what we hear a lot. … This happened to me and then this happened to me and that happened to me. It’s not excuses, it’s just the way it works. If you can’t get to work then you can’t get paid,” Eaton said.

The debriefing revealed that none of the participants had bought food every week, many were evicted and nobody got out of recovery. Some started in a homeless shelter and were never able to leave that situation. Eaton noted that all the scenarios that the volunteers were given were actual cases from their work in Franklin County.

“We hope it helps you look at people a different way. That’s the reason why we do it. We want people to be viewed as the people that they are and not as the labels we put on them,” Eaton told the group.

For Skyler Henry, a Lycoming student, participating in the simulation changed her view of what people leaving incarceration face in re-entering society.

“You would think they have so many resources available to them, but they actually struggle. It takes time. That’s what citizens don’t understand — it takes time to get money. It takes time to get on a schedule. It takes time to get a house. It takes time to get employment because you have a criminal background and not everyone wants someone who has a criminal background. They’re judged before they even get a job,” Henry said.


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