On the Right Track

by Anita Paredes

Anita develops substance abuse and reentry programs for prisoners and ex-offenders. She has a cat named Bruce and cooks to escape

the drudgery of daily life.

Instructional Objective On the Right Track is designed to be thought-provoking for soon-to-be released inmates, or newly released parolees. After playing the game, it should be clear that in order to successfully make it off parole, a person should take care of his or her responsibilities, keep employed, stay clean and sober, and avoid situations that could jeopardize freedom.

Learners The game is designed for inmates who will be paroled from a California state prison in the near future, or who have recently been paroled. The typical inmate today is between 20 and 30. Nine out of ten state prisoners are male. The vast majority have substance abuse histories. Ethnically, the prison population is roughly divided into one-third white, one-third black, and one-third Hispanic. There are very few Asian prisoners, although this group is growing with increases in Asian gangs. Most have poor work histories, marred by periods of incarceration. Although the California Department of Corrections claims that about 60% of incoming inmates are functioning at a ninth grade level, many inmates are functionally illiterate. In order to make it to state prison, most inmates have prior convictions and have served time in county jails. They have histories of making poor decisions. Often, a support system of family and friends on the outside is nonexistent.

Rationale On the Right Track can be used as part of pre-release program. Pre-release classes are taught at every institution, with the exception of Pelican Bay, the new maximum security prison at Crescent City for the system's most dangerous inmates. Inmates paroling within two months are allowed to sign up for this six week class. The system offers little incentive for personal growth. Although the pre-release class is very valuable and covers many topics that the newly released inmate can use, only about 5% of the population attends. Inmates that attend educational courses do get their "day for day" (one day good time for each day served), but do not get paid like other institutional jobs which allow them to earn a little money for cigarettes, personal items, and money on their books. Consequently, those who do volunteer for academic classes do so because they are motivated to learn.

Many of the squares cover realistic life situations and their associated costs. The chance squares introduce situations that parolees may encounter along the way from prison release to getting off parole. The game was designed with getting off parole as the ultimate goal. One year in the life of a parolee can be a long time.

Design Process The board was designed with two concentric circles to represent the cyclical nature of many ex-offenders' lives. Many people who are thought of as being on the fringes of society spend their lives literally going in circles, not setting any goals to work toward. The two "tracks" have outlets for upward mobility. The outer track is the one where many ex-offenders start. Most inmates are eligible for $200 in gate money, unless they have other money on the books. Payday on the outer circle represents getting a labor job paying $5 an hour ($5 x 40 hours = $200/week). A bus pass in San Diego now costs $44 a month. Since the game's currency is $50 bills, the bus pass was rounded off to $50. A room in a downtown SRO hotel (single room occupancy, with linens) costs upwards from $200 a month. Sharing a place with someone would start about $200 a month, not including utilities. Food and bills are set at $50. These are the necessary evils in order to survive on the outside: Shelter, food, transportation, and bills. Bills could stand for clothing expenses, child support, outstanding bills left from before incarceration, utilities, medical coverage, and other obligations. All chance card scenarios are in multiples of $50.

There are two kinds of chance cards on the board. As the player advances to the inner circle, the types of life situations which one encounters may be different than the ones that the player faced when first on parole. At both levels there are "Hey! You're Okay" spaces in which a player is safe--nothing good or bad happens here.

Here are some examples of blue chance cards:

* You're in the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone who looks like you robs a liquor store, and you are taken downtown for questioning. Lose one day's pay. Forfeit $50.

* You pick up an odd job for the weekend painting an apartment. Collect $100.

* You need steel-toed shoes for your job at the shipyard. Pay $50.

* Move to the next Hey! You're Okay Space.

* Your boss asks you to work an extra shift. Collect $50.

Some red card examples are:

* You get the use of a company car. Collect $50 for the bus pass you won't need this month.

* Uh oh. The TV is on the blink. Pay $100 for repairs.

* Your landlord wants $100 as a pet deposit for Fido. You love that dog. Pay the $100.

* Collect $200. You file your first income tax return in years. The government owes you money!

Parole and re-entry are very serious subjects, yet the game is designed with humor to take off the edge. The chance situations, while at times humorous, are representative of the good and bad things that can happen to parolees. The game has an equal number of good consequences to balance out the bad ones. On the Right Track is designed to be non-sexist.

Noting that many ex-offenders are substance abusers, there will be cards that deal with this grim aspect of re-entry as well. Scenarios for such cards might be:

* You turned in one "dirty" test too many. Your parole agent tells you to get down to 30-day detox or go back to prison. Lose one week's pay, lose one turn, take two steps forward and one step back.

* You spend your whole paycheck one weekend on drugs and alcohol. Pay $200, take two steps forward and one step back.

* It's your birthday. You feel so good you get loaded. Lose one day's work. Pay $50.

* You had a fight with your lover. You feel so bad you get loaded. Lose one day's work. Pay $50.

* You went to a clean and sober dance and had a blast! Sleep in tomorrow. Move to the nearest "Hey! You're Okay" square.

(Having worked with ex-offenders and addicts for over 15 years, the author has seen this "feel good, feel bad" rationalization for getting loaded many times.)

Other cards will deal with family and relationship issues:

* Baby needs new shoes. Pay $50.

* You want to impress that someone special you just met. Spend $100 on dinner.

* You feel guilty about being away from your kids for two years. Spend $100 on toys.

* Your past due student loan catches up with you. Pay $100.

* Voc Rehab comes through and agrees to buy your tools for work. Collect $100.

* Your favorite aunt sends you $100 for Christmas.

Rules On the Right Track can be played by two to four players. The game should take an hour or less to finish. Two players should finish faster than three or four players.

Equipment Before beginning, be sure your game has these pieces:

One game board

Four colored markers

Twenty blue chance cards

Fifteen red chance cards

One die

Fifty bills of play money ($50 each)

Start of Play Players pick colored markers and place them on or near the "You're On Parole!" square. Place the blue and red chance cards on the board. Players toss the die to decide who will go first, second, third, fourth, and who will be the banker. The player who rolls the lowest goes first, second lowest goes second, etc. The player who rolls the highest is the banker. Ties roll again. The banker distributes $200 gate money to each player. Players take turns advancing around the board in a clockwise direction by moving the number of spaces indicated by the throw of the die.

If you do not have enough money to cover a debt, you may borrow money from the player to your right. This loan must be repaid as soon as you come into money. If the player on the right does not have enough money to cover your debt, you lose one turn. The bank will not loan you money--don't even ask. Your neighbor, the banker, will lend you money from his personal account.

Chance Squares: If you land on a red or blue chance square, pick the top card from the same colored deck. Follow the instructions on the card, then replace the card on the bottom of the deck.

Hey! You're Okay squares mean just that. Nothing good or bad happens here. It's safe territory.

Advancing to the Inner Circle: You must land on a square with an arrow in order to advance to the inner circle on the next move.

Getting Off Parole: You'll need the exact number of moves to get off parole. Keep trying until you are successful.

Winning the Game The Winner is the first person to make it off parole. It doesn't matter how much money you have left, or if you're flat broke. What's important is that you made it.

Where you go from here is up to you.