By Charles Petty | Photos by Charles Petty
For so many former incarnated people, reentry into life is far harder than it may look. The general public is often unaware of the barriers faced by those leaving prison and working to change their lives for the better.
On Tuesday, about 40 people – including members of law enforcement, public officials, community activists, and nonprofit leaders – attended a “Prison to Community Reentry Simulation” at the city of Sanford’s Public Works Facility. The event was hosted by the Department of Justice, the Lee-Harnett County District Attorney’s office, and Project Safe Neighborhoods, and simulated life for a person one month into returning from incarnation.
During the simulation, attendees were given made-up offenses (ranging from internet crimes to drug selling and possession) and then placed on a list provided to the audience. After being released from a mock prison, the participant was given a bag with a check-list, mock cash and slips known as transportation vouchers. The room in the public works building had various stations representing the different areas of the public former offenders would need to access. Among those were a treatment booth, probation, food pantry, half-way house, DMV office, and a pawn shop. Each participant’s list showed how often the “offender” needed treatment and check-ins with their probation officer as well as buying foods and medicine.
Participants were given enough transportation vouchers and money to make it to at least one of the booths. The hour-long event was designed to show in a hypothetical four week period how well one could survive being out of incarceration. Some of the offenders had places to stay like a loved one’s house, while others had to also add in rent or stay in the half-way house booth for shelter.
The post-release life of a month’s span was tricky, and many in the group ended up back in mock prison at least once, if not twice. For others, it was a matter of learning how to navigate the red tape so many encounter when coming back into society after a long stint in prison.
The goal of Project Safe Neighborhoods is to “improve the quality of life for all residents of the Middle District of North Carolina by employing a comprehensive, data-driven district-wide strategy to reduce gang related violent crimes and illegal gun possession.” The program is run by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“I have been in the U.S. Attorney’s office for 25 years,” said Robert Lang, the program’s moderator. “We have been working on violence reduction partnerships and realized that reentry was a smart way of doing business. We have tried our best to assist counties in our district to think about reentry programs.”
After the simulation, the group had a community discussion on how to move forward. Lang talked about how it’s up to communities to work with the federal sector to ensure former felons can find easily accessible resources once leaving prison.
“As sheriff, me and my team are open to any ideas with community members that can keep people from coming back to our jail and make them better citizens,” said interim Sheriff Brian Estes, who attended the event.