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What's life after prison like? LINC 're-entry simulation' maps out the post-incarceration struggle

On Wednesday, Leading Into New Communities, or LINC, held a “re-entry” simulation where participants briefly stepped into the lives of someone transitioning out of incarceration. WHQR reporter Camille Mojica followed WHQR’s Grace Vitaglione as she participated.

LINC’s mission is to empower youth in the Wilmington community to make good life choices, and help those leaving incarceration transition back into society.

To kick off the event, District Attorney Ben David said a few words about why the LINC event is important:

“And here’s what we’ve found, because of what we’re going to be focusing on today, ⅔ of those people will be back in jail within three years, that’s called recidivism. How do we break that cycle? We don’t do it through more jail cells, and we don’t do it through more prison," he said.

During LINC’s event, each participant was given a packet describing the person whose life they were experiencing: name, education level, amount of money saved up, and living situation. Those who were living in halfway houses or homeless were required to carry their chairs with them to every station.

Grace was 'Simon,' a person who’d saved up $20 dollars while in prison, had a GED, and lived in a shabby apartment with their significant other.

Each participant was given a “life card,” which had a list of tasks they needed to complete each week, such as pay rent, go to NA or AA meetings, visit their parole officer, check in at their jobs, eat, and other day-to-day necessities. Everyone was given ten minutes to complete the week’s tasks, and at the end of ten minutes, they needed to be seated in their original seats — or else go to jail

Typically, a reentry program would take a month but for this event, it was highly condensed, with each week lasting just ten minutes.

During the first week, Grace stopped by identification services to get her state ID. Shortly after, she was in jail already after leaving her parole meeting to try and make it back to her seat on time.

At the beginning of week two, Grace was stuck: “I had to sell my transportation ticket for thirty dollars to get out of jail. But now I can’t go anywhere because I don’t have transportation, and I don’t have money to buy more.”

So she decided a church would be a charitable place to go, but they did not give her what she was looking for.

She was able to get her hands on a free transportation ticket, went back to the church, and asked for food assistance:

"Yeah I'm really hungry."
"Oh you didn't even eat the first week!"
"I did while I was in prison."
"Three hots and a cot, that's what they say about jail, right?"

Grace was still in trouble: she had no transportation tickets which meant she couldn’t get anywhere. She wanted to get a loan in order to make some money.

“I can’t even go to the bank because I don’t have transportation… Okay I’m going to try and bargain with the transportation people," she said.

Unfortunately, her resourcefulness did not help her. Taking a moment to think, she said: “I can’t help but think if I was in this situation in real life, I would probably go up to someone on the say and say could you lend me a dollar, you know? But then, you have people actually out on the street asking for people to lend them some money, it usually doesn’t lead to them getting any money.”

There was one way to make relatively quick money. You’d get $25 dollars for a plasma donation.

“Gonna make some money… Gonna donate plasma…”

Unfortunately, that did not go well. She allegedly attempted to steal money and was immediately sent to jail again. Now, she was back at square one and it was only week two: no money for bail, no transportation tickets to get around.

Resourcefulness came back: “I have no money, but I wonder if someone would trade my food assistance for $50 so I can get out of here.”

The jail showed mercy and let her out on good behavior after some time. Now, it was time to ask the bank for a loan.

Even with trying to make her case, the bank refused her a loan and told her to come back when she had a job.

Long story short, Grace wound up in jail two more times, and was unable to complete her weekly tasks. She was the only person who remembered to eat when they were not in prison. No one paid rent, and many people were still without all three forms of identification by the end of four weeks.

While the room was full of laughter, jokes, and levity, the reality of the struggle set in when everyone reflected on their experience at the end of the event.

Bryan Talbott, Director of Development and Communications reiterated the word “frustration”, which he was noticing a lot of people expressing, even through the laughs.

“And it follows you around for years, even after you’ve gotten out of incarceration you try to get your ID, a place to live, a good job, food, all these things you have to do. It’s like a really hard maze or game to get what you need to turn your life around and not return to incarceration. That’s why a lot of people return to incarceration because it’s just so frustrating," Talbott said.

At the end, participants were asked if they felt like returning to prison was almost like a relief of some sorts, and nearly everyone raised their hands in agreement.

Many public officials were in attendance and participated. Some included New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple, City of Wilmington Councilman Clifford Barnett, New Hanover County School Board members Stefanie Adams and Stephanie Walker, and Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY where the exuberance of sports season never ended. She graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Chasing stories has been a passion of hers since she was little, channeling itself through her art and writing. Camille’s journey in audio is never ending and she’s served as a podcast producer on multiple shows. When she’s not working she enjoys chatting and gaming with friends, reading, and creating digital art.