WATAUGA — To close out recovery month, the Mediation & Restorative Justice Center and Watauga LEAD & Recovery on the Inside hosted a reentry simulation to give people a look into the life of someone who is reentering the community after a period of incarceration.
With support from the High Country Reentry Collaborative and Watauga Community Justice Coalition, the organization hosted individuals with representation from service providers, faith leaders, law enforcement, students, family and friends of people affected by this topic and people with lived experiences of substance use disorder and the reentry process from jail and/or prison.
The aim of the event was to represent a realistic landscape of what many individuals face when coming home including complex obstacles and barriers.
Each participant assumed the identity of someone being released and received a packet of materials, including a “Life Card.” The “Life Card” explains the person’s background, current living and job situation and the specific weekly tasks that must be accomplished to avoid the risk of being rearrested for non-compliance.
Watauga LEAD Program Coordinator Mollie Bolick said drug overdose is the leading cause of death after release from jails and prisons. She said the within the first two weeks after release, the risk of death from drug overdose is almost 13 times higher than the general population.
Bolick said the simulation included peer support in which people who were participating could choose to utilize a peer support specialists to help accomplish tasks. Bolick said the organizers “believe adding this dynamic helped show how beneficial that relationship is, and how much more can be accomplished when you’re not trying to tackle everything by yourself.”
“These are often people who have been thrown out or ostracized from their community and we get to create bridges that bring people back hopefully, to a safe and compassionate community,” Bolick said. “We do that by walking alongside and connecting our peers with what they need to be successful. We believe that empowering starts with elevating hope and helping them believe in themselves again. Helping them navigate a very complex system. We’re not in the business of pointing fingers. We try to stay in the solution and not dwell in the problem.”
Bolick said that one message she would want the community to know is “that compassion goes a long way” and “that in any challenge someone might be facing, you are far more likely to overcome it when you are in an environment where you feel supported.”
After the simulation, lunch and information from local agencies who work with people returning from incarceration was provided.
Jeff Walker from Wilkes Recovery Revolution was the speaker of the event. He spoke on his personal experiences as an individual in long-term recovery and formally incarcerated individual and his work in the community. Walker also spoke with participants about the difficulties of life after incarceration.
Bolick said the organizers of the event hope to host the training again in the future and are willing to facilitate the training for other groups or organizations who would like to raise awareness in their communities or organizations.
For more information, visit www.wataugalead.org.