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'Is the system working for you?': Reentry simulation lets people experience challenges of life after prison

'Is the system working for you?': Reentry simulation lets people experience challenges of life after prison


Damar Hampton joked with his “clients” Tuesday morning when they didn’t make it to interviews on time.

Try though they might, some of them just couldn’t get transportation, visits to parole officers and securing food completed in the allotted time.

Hampton, a Davenport bus driver, knows all too well time management is no laughing matter – especially for a convicted felon seeking a job.

He’s been there.

Hampton, who played the role of an employer, was among the 50-or-so participants at an interactive learning opportunity allowing participants to experience first-hand the challenges and barriers people who have been incarcerated. The simulation was held at the 7th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, Davenport.

“This is a unique opportunity for us case managers and the general public to walk in the shoes of people returning from incarceration,” said Deborah Valenzuela, case manager for The Safer Foundation ACE (Advancing Careers and Employment) program. Through ACE, Hampton earned his commercial driver’s license. He has driven a bus for more than a year now.

The Safer Program and United Way of Central Iowa partnered to present the reentry simulation program. Participants received an identity and were challenged to complete tasks within a few minutes’ time. “Each week here is a 15-minute increment,” Valenzuela said.

Participants tried to find transportation, work, food and social services within the limited time.

Hampton remembers what it was like to reenter the community after he served 10 years in federal prison.

“Everything now is done on a computer, and phones have screens,” he said. “When I went in, the Motorola RAZR was IT.”

One of the biggest challenges, he said, was getting to places on time. “You got some PO (parole officer) or someone above you who tells you what needs to be done, but they don’t know how to do it,’ he said.

Amber Ramirez, with United Way of Central Iowa, led a debriefing. “Did it feel like the system was working for you?” she asked. “It’s hard to get around if you don’t have a car.”

Participant Jeff Simpson, of Davenport, is an intern at the Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad-Cities, Davenport. This was the second time he participated in a re-entry simulation — the first time was in Des Moines, he said.

“It’s almost as if the system is set up for failure,” he said. “You realize it when you’re doing the simulation.

“I ended up in jail both times.”


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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.

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