WINTERVILLE, N.C. — Red tape, transportation woes, drug addiction, food insecurity, homelessness, medical costs, mental health issues, trouble finding employment — these were just some of the difficulties encountered by participants in Tuesday’s reentry simulation exercise at Pitt Community College. 

   To help local leaders better understand the challenges associated with making the transition from incarceration to everyday life, PCC and the Local Reentry Council (LRC) invited them to step into the shoes of justice-involved individuals trying to reenter society. Leading the exercise was Bruce Johnson, dean of mathematics and sciences at Central Piedmont Community College. As a former contributor to the Mecklenburg County Jail’s “Visiting Professor Series,” Johnson is familiar with the experiences and challenges of ex-offenders. 

   To get things started at PCC, Johnson made sure each participant, which included PCC administrators, law enforcement officers, elected officials and various justice system personnel, received a ‘life card’ that explained their criminal background, employment status and current living situation. It also outlined specific weekly tasks they needed to accomplish in order to avoid being sent back to prison for failure to comply with the stipulations of their supervised release. 

   “The ID was created for participants to walk in the shoes of ex-offenders, who often experience legal, economic, resource and personal challenges,” said Jasmin Spain, PCC Assistant Vice President of Student Support. “The ID also exposed legal system inequities and the ongoing chess match that is navigating life despite those circumstances.” 

   In four 15-minute intervals – each interval representing a week of post-release life – participants were asked to reenter society, whether it was purchasing groceries, securing a birth certificate, getting a job or selling their plasma for money. After standing in long lines for services, and often finding rejection at the end of their wait, it didn’t take long for frustrations to mount. 

   “In many ways, today’s simulation presented a snapshot of what many of our students deal with on a daily basis, although ex-offenders must overcome the obstacles they face while carrying a stigma that only magnifies their problems,” Spain said. “Though some of the individuals who took part in the simulation were familiar with the difficulties they were presented today—either because they’ve personally experienced them or had someone close to them go through them—for others, it was a real eye-opener.” 

   Spain said events like the one at PCC this week are important because they can lead to meaningful positive change. 

   “Just like equity conversations in which we seek ways to ensure everyone has a chance to access and succeed in higher education, we need to have conversations about reentry,” Spain said. “PCC can be a catalyst for justice-involved individuals to improve their lives, and should that happen, it would reduce crime, which would improve the quality of life for everyone in our community.”