“Knowing the issues and actively participating are vastly different. Better understanding and daily frustrations even when you do everything right. Important simulation, especially for those involved in the work and have no lived experience. There are also many people out in community who have no idea about the struggles.”-participant
The Lehigh Valley Justice Institute alongside Franklin Together, hosted “Roadblocks to Reentry” at the Lipkin Theater of Northampton Community College. Roadblocks to Reentry is an innovative simulation that highlights the challenges and disparities faced by those recently released, who are actively trying to integrate back into society.
We invited participants who are governmental policy makers as well as those involved in private sector support services relating to reentry in both Northampton and Lehigh County. As Lehigh Commissioner Bob Elbich eloquently put it – he knew on an intellectual level the problems which people face in reentry, but doing the simulation made him feel it on an emotional level.
Among those present included: Pennsylvania Superior Court President Judge Jack Panella, Law clerks for Northampton County President Judge Michael Koury, Judge Samuel Murray, (Koury and Murray attended as observers), as well as did Rob Kemmerer head of Northampton County Pretrial services. Additionally, in attendance was Magisterial District Judge Jordan Knisley, Lehigh County Commissioner Zach Cole-Borghi, numerous representatives of Northampton County from Corrections, Drug & Alcohol, Mental Heath, students and NCC faculty, Career Link, Treatment Trends, MARS, New Bethany Ministries, League of Women Voters, Pete Reinke of Univest Bank, and the news media.
“Knowing the issues and actively participating are vastly different. Better understanding and daily frustrations even when you do everything right. Important simulation, especially for those involved in the work and have no lived experience. There are also many people out in community who have no idea about the struggles.”
“There are not enough hours in the day to be successful. There are extra fees to pay-it’s a punishment for being in the low-income bracket.” - participant
The Simulation was a tremendous success! Although the participants enjoyed the role-playing aspect and really got into their characters, the gravity of the situation was not lost on anyone. Judge Panella, role-playing as an 11-year old, ended up back in the custody of Children & Youth after his father (played by Lehigh Commissioner Zach Cole-Borghi) died of an overdose. He was one of two participants to die during the simulation. Another died of suicide. The scenarios that were given t participants were based on real-life events that were observed in Franklin County over the years. Among the many comments of participants after the simulation, which included a lot of references to it being “eye opening,” MDJ Knisley’s was the most dramatic. She stated that she not only found it eye opening, but shocking to realize all of the hurdles involved in reentry. This reaction is underscored by the fact that prior to being elected MDJ, Knisley served as a public defender in Judge Dally’s Drug Court, so she is no stranger to the impediments. One of the most important aspect that the participants learned is the lack of time those who have been recently released have; too many required tasks to be completed in little to no time. Hopefully, all of the decision makers at the simulation will hold these learned lessons and keep them in mind in their various roles in the system.
Earlier in the day our professional staff met with NCC students to informally discuss our day to day work, and, hopefully, interest some in assisting as interns. Approximately 100 students came as the event was then moved into the Lipkin Theatre. LVJI staff then delivered the Cohen lecture for NCC's annual peace and justice conference. This was followed by a panel discussion with NCC students and faculty, fielding questions from two NCC faculty members. Thanks to LVJI's professional staff and volunteers from LVJI's board, interns, and the general public who worked so diligently to make this event a tremendous success. Much thanks to NCC faculty and staff who planned and facilitated the day's activities. Finally, many thanks to all the participants who spent an afternoon to “walk a mile in their shoes.”