LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – Those sent to prison are expected to serve time for their crime and be rehabilitated to a functioning member of society. However when it comes time to re-enter society, the hardships they face can lead them right back into jail.
For one hour UW-L students and adults traded in their names and identity to take on the role of an inmate transitioning back into society.
“It basically shows the students what it’s like for someone coming out of prison or jail, what obstacles they’re going to face, what different problems they may have,” Wisconsin Secure Program Director Trina Kroening-Skime said.
The simulation was run by members of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections as well as individuals from contributing social services programs. For students, it was a game, but organizers say for many inmates this is reality.
Each student faced different challenges like getting a drivers license, finding a job or paying rent. They had just 15 minutes to do it, representing one week in the real world. Finding time to make the money and accomplish
these tasks proved difficult.
“I wanted to work but I couldn’t work because I had to do a drug test, but I didn’t have money for a drug test and I had to do treatment,” Junior Jillian Hebert said.
Dr. Lisa Kruse, who brought the simulation to the university, went through it before and says it’s not easy.
“I just stood in the middle, gave up and went to jail because it was so overwhelming,” Kruse explained. “Really at that moment, I felt the anxiety.”
Organizers say that’s the goal, to help those working with these inmates in the future better understand their situation.
“If someone’s not doing well, there’s usually a reason why. Can you figure out what that reason why is?” Kroening Skime said.
She said every time they’ve ran the simulation in the community, someone quits and waits in jail. This time no one quit and all kept pushing though. Now they hope the lesson sticks with them.
“To understand those challenges. To be able to empathize more with the stress and anxiety that comes with re-entry,” Kruse added.
Everyone who took part in the simulation currently works to help former inmates transition back into society or they plan to once they graduate.
It’s interesting to note this simulation was actually created by the federal government to help inmates with the transition. Which DOC officials say is important because 95 percent of those in prison will eventually transition back into society.