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December 13, 2018

Prisoner reentry simulation shows real life challenges after incarceration

November 26, 2018
Jarrell E. Daniels, a research assistant at the Center for Justice at Columbia University, speaks at the Re-Entry Simulation on Nov. 14, 2018. (Danielle Cinone / New York Daily News)

If at first you don’t obtain your government ID — you must try, try, and try again — and that’s just one of the steps after getting out of prison.

Formerly incarcerated individuals face many challenges, and a “prisoner reentry simulation” exercise held recently at John Jay College of Criminal Justice showed just that.




For some, obtaining a birth certificate and Social Security card are the first steps to starting life after serving time, but sometimes, even those simple-sounding tasks aren’t easy to complete.

People who faced these struggles were unable to pawn items, visit their probation officer, attend AA or NA meetings, and basically start any step of the reentry process.

“It’s an unclear trajectory for most people. They find themselves really struggling with some of the systematic struggles of reentry,” said Lucy Lang, the executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution.

The “Reinventing Reentry Simulation,” founded by Sue Ellen Allen, was created as a tool for teaching the next generation of prosecutors about reentry barriers.

“It helps give people a general understanding of why people end up relapsing back into their old way of life,” said Jarrell Daniels, a research assistant at the Center for Justice at Columbia University.

Lucy Lang (seated right), Carlos Ivan Calaff (seated center), Jarrell Daniels (standing right), and others who assisted in the Re-Entry Simulation on Nov. 14, 2018.
Lucy Lang (seated right), Carlos Ivan Calaff (seated center), Jarrell Daniels (standing right), and others who assisted in the Re-Entry Simulation on Nov. 14, 2018. (Danielle Cinone / New York Daily News)

Held in John Jay College’s Moot Court, about 20 people attended the event to experience the not-so-easy process — while the staff reenacted real-life encounters.

Lang hopes this will “break down some of the walls that people perceive between communities and folks who are returning home.”

Re-Entry Simulation at John Jay College in Manhattan on Nov. 14, 2018.
Re-Entry Simulation at John Jay College in Manhattan on Nov. 14, 2018. (Danielle Cinone / New York Daily News)

Participants learned that family and friends were crucial to the reentry process — whether they helped with financial, emotional or housing support.

Daniels, who is formerly incarcerated, thinks the most challenging things that people come home to deal with are finding stable housing and employment opportunities.

“The longer you are away, the harder it is to read just to society because you had to miss a digital age. For example, they might have used tokens instead of MetroCards for transportation and that could be frustrating and challenging,” Daniels said.

Other difficulties faced during probation include following curfew, staying away from alcohol establishments, and not going back to their old ways of coping which could be violence or substance abuse.

The process is different for everyone.

“Normally, when you leave prison, they give you a bus ticket, $40, and an ID that says you’ve been released,” said Carlos Ivan Calaff, who grew up in foster homes in the Bronx and has been institutionalized most of his life.

“When you’re inside, you have this notion of freedom — what it looks like and how it’s supposed to be — and when you get out, you have to spend so much time in these agencies that it makes you wonder — am I really free?” he said.




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