Simulation provides insight into struggles faced by those transitioning from incarceration to independence – The Lawrence Times


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Nervous laughter echoed through Flory Hall at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday afternoon during an interactive simulation of the challenges faced by individuals transitioning from a life of incarceration to the community.

City administrators, public health officials, social service providers and representatives of the justice system were among those who took part in the event, presented as part of a partnership between the reintegration program of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Johnson County Government.

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Reintegration program director Carrie Neis said some laughs were to be expected as community members tried to navigate the challenges faced by many released from incarceration, but she said that It was important to remember that in real life similar barriers can lead to homelessness, unemployment and recidivism.

“It’s real life for people,” Neis said. “That’s what people go through when they get out of prison. If it’s overwhelming, if it’s confusing, that’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Andrea Albright / The Lawrence Times Douglas County Reintegration Program Director Carrie Neis speaks to attendees before an interactive simulation of the transition out of incarceration Wednesday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

People at the end of a correctional sentence may have served their sentence, but many lack the resources or skills to navigate the post-release demands. Sheriff Jay Armbrister said some people who leave custody often can’t find jobs or housing simply because they can’t afford proper identification.

“It wasn’t until I learned more about the system that I realized what a privilege it was,” he said.

Wednesday’s attendees received a package of documents giving them a new name and information about their criminal history, level of education, and post-incarceration housing and employment status. They were given several travel vouchers and a schedule of their court-ordered appointments. Some, but not all, also received identification and small amounts of cash.

They then used the minimal information given to them to navigate through four fictional 15-minute weeks to complete tasks at tables representing a courthouse, employer, social service organizations, bank, church, health care, utilities, housing, groceries, treatment, probation office. , and a pawnshop, among others.

Douglas County District Court Judge Stacey Donovan, known during the simulation as “Sharon”, started her first “week” looking to make money selling plasma. She was turned away, however, and had to spend the second of five transportation vouchers to get to the ID table, where she was lucky enough to have a birth certificate, Social Security card, and $15.

Andrea Albright / The Lawrence Times Judge Stacey Donovan hands an object to Dylan Krzyzopolski.

Minutes later, “Sharon” reluctantly accepted $40 at the pawnshop for an item she said was valued at $50. She then spent $15 on a drug test which, when passed, spurred a “good job.” I’m proud of you!” from the mock test administrator.

Donovan said as a public defender for 22 years, she was aware of some clients’ struggles. She said she appeared on Wednesday’s show to get an even better idea of ​​the obstacles that can make reintegrating into the community post-lockdown difficult.

“I gave customers rides and things when I could, but that’s a lot,” Donovan said. “As I suspected, getting ID was very difficult. I’ve heard my clients talk about these things and wanted to experience them.

On the other side of the reentry simulation tables sat representatives of the Douglas County Reentry Program; Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center; and DCCCA, a behavioral health and substance abuse treatment facility in Douglas County. Also included were graduates of the Douglas County reentry program and participants of Artists Helping the Homeless, a Kansas City-based organization that works with area agencies to ease the transition out of incarceration.

AHH participant Michael Escobar oversaw the identification process during Wednesday’s simulation, making his table one of the busiest in the room. He told attendees he understood the frustration of gathering the documents required for a valid ID.

“I can truly say that everything I’ve put you through is something I’ve been through myself,” he said.

Dylan Krzyzopolski worked at the payday loan and pawnshop table, who said he currently lives at Bodhi House, an AHH facility that provides free food, clothing, personal hygiene items and prescription drugs to those returning to the community.

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Krzyzopolski said he served time at Ozark Correctional Center in Fordland, Missouri, and prepared for his own release through similar simulations. He said he had gone through the difficulties of trying to find a job without housing, clothing or money for transportation, and he wanted Wednesday’s attendees to understand those obstacles.

“This program is wonderful,” Krzyzopolski said. “There are people who are not cut from the fabric that I am. They haven’t been inside, and they’re blissfully ignorant. It gives them a little more understanding.

Lawrence City manager Craig Owens said he was intrigued by the back-to-school simulation after participating earlier in a poverty simulation that uses a similar interaction model.

He called the experience “moving” and enjoyed details like drawing a card to determine whether participants passed or failed mock drug tests, which he said matched the capricious nature of the addiction. Owens’ program name was “Shawn,” and at the end of the four simulated weeks, he and Donovan’s “Sharon” found themselves “living in a halfway house” after “failing” multiple drug tests for dope.

“It was a powerful experience to help better understand the system and how it affects people’s lives,” Owens said. “I think people don’t understand the complexity of recovering and enjoying the things that most people take for granted.”

The partnership between Douglas County and Johnson County has planned future reintegration and poverty simulations throughout the summer and fall. For more information, visit the Douglas County Reintegration Program website. Registration for future simulations is free and open to the public.

Andrea Albright / The Lawrence Times Michael Escobar, who has been incarcerated, works with the participants during the simulation.
Andrea Albright / The Lawrence Times Douglas County District Court Judge Stacey Donovan, right, pays living expenses to Douglas County Deputy Administrator Jill Jolicoeur and artists assisting homeless founder Kar Woo during of Wednesday’s interactive simulation.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), journalist, can be contacted at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more about his work for The Times here. Check out his staff biography here.

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