Re-Entry Simulation: The Struggle of Returning to Society

Former prisoners face challenges at every turn. Approximately 688,384 men and women were released from state or federal custody in 2011. [1] At West Virginia University, College of Law, students participated in a reentry simulation manifesting frustration in some and the feeling of defeat in others.

Students were provided packets, which consisted the criminal history, employment (if any), child support, student loans, amount of rent due per month, and the times per week attendance for treatment is necessary based on the identity given. In addition, the packet contained several other requirements, specific to each identity. Some packets contained monopoly money to be used as currency, and coins for transportation, while others did not. The students were instructed to assume the identity they were given while navigating the release process. Tables were set up around the room with designated areas, including: Employment, Probation Office, Employment, Transportation, Grocery, Rent/Utility Payment, Loan Assistance, Plasma Donation, and a Risk/Chance table. For each location, the students were required to pay a transportation token and show three forms of identification. The simulation recreated the experience of one month of living post-release, each week having a predetermined number of minutes to complete the required tasks.

To much dismay of the students participating, there did not seem to be enough time to complete all the required stops listed on our assignment. There were delays at stations, money and transportation were also issues. A few were able to acquire employment which also entailed putting in minutes equivalent to hours before being able to collect a paycheck. Some went without eating because they either lacked the money to buy food or were unable to get to the grocery store. Others took their chances at the risk table and committed another crime because it was too difficult to get ahead by proper routes.

The frustration caused by the inability to meet all the requirements reflects the common experience of many individuals who re-enter society and the hurdles that are in place. These challenges are often coupled with the risk going back to prison for violating terms attached to an individual’s release. For instance, the need to report a number of times per week for treatment, probation, and even drug screening often carries an additional stress when trying to carry also juggle the aspects of one’s personal life, i.e. employment and cost of living.

The experience was eye opening for many in highlighting the difficulties for those re-entering the community. The struggle of re-entering a community that often does not sympathize with the challenges is a reality that everyone should be aware of. As students who participated in the simulation, we can only hope that this program continues to occur for future classes as it is undoubtedly an enriching experience.

[1] Offender Reentry, NIJ (February 25, 2015) available at