Re-entry simulation explores struggles, challenges faced by ex-offenders

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 6:01 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - It was role playing with a purpose.

For a couple of hours on Friday in South Bend, dozens of people pretended to be convicted murderers.

One of the participants was the warden of the St. Joseph County Jail who assumed the identity of Jake.

“Jake is serving a 45-year sentence for murder,” Warden Russell Olmstead told 16 News Now. “I just got out, so I have no job. So, I’m trying to get my life back on track again.”

The room at the Main Branch of the St. Joseph County Public Library was set up in board game fashion, with stations where players could theoretically get all the things they needed for a smooth transition on time and on budget.

“They experience what people coming out of incarceration have to do,” said Dismas House Executive Director Maria Stancati, who organized the simulation. “So, they have to go to probation every week, they have to find a job, they have to get an I.D., get a social security card. It’s really frustrating and amazing because that’s what people coming home have to do.”

A total of 55 people registered to take part in the exercise.

“I’m unemployed upon release, but I do have a family that’s willing to take me in upon release, so that helps,” said program participant Anthony Vasoli. “I don’t have to find housing, I don’t have to ask for help with utilities.”

The goal of the exercise was to create conversation and empathy, and perhaps inspire action.

“I think it’s a great exercise, I really do, and this is amazing,” said Krysti Montgomery, a recovery coach from Hancock County. “I’m hoping we can bring it back to our county as well.”

“We are trying to bring in more programs to help prevent recidivism,” said Assistant St. Joseph County Jail Warden Rachel Zawistowski. “This kind of helps us show what direction we need to go, what kind of services we need to help get more assistance for the residents we have in the facility now.”

Friday’s re-entry simulation was the second put on by Dismas House. The first was last October.