(this is the final part of our story. Begin at the beginning: Part 1.)
Part III — Everyone’s Issue
The Aftermath: Relevance and Conclusion
After the final whistle blew, everyone was instructed put all their paperwork back in their envelopes; and we arranged all the chairs in a giant circle for debrief.
Our host was in the middle and asked us some very pointed questions:
- A few families were evicted in weeks one and two “did anyone think to invite these families into your home?” Only one person raised their hand. I couldn’t believe it — I was so preoccupied with my own family’s situation that I didn’t even think about other families. I immediately felt selfish.
- “How many people in Sunnydale ended up selling drugs?” Almost everyone raised their hand. I recall that one person who had been evicted was the one who ended up with the most money by the end from dealing.
- “How many people themselves went to jail or had a family member go to jail?” About half the room raised their hand. “How many people left a loved one in jail for one reason or another?” The same people raised their hand. One woman spoke up saying that her teenager was sent to jail for constantly getting into trouble at school, but if she missed work she was afraid of either being fired or not earning enough money to pay her bills. She said: “At least in jail I knew where my teen was, I knew they were safe and can’t get into any more trouble.”
She warned us it would feel like a game. And it did. She warned us that this was our issue! And it is!
This simulation, though it felt very much like a game, took me back to a very personal experience. Throughout the simulation, I kept trying to imagine what the real life of this character, Lynn Nelson, might look like. In week four when I found out that Richard had been selling drugs after he lost his job — it brought me back to a time I truly felt useless, hopeless.
It took me back to a boy I dated and the night I found out he was using drugs.
He had lost his mother to a brutal battle with cancer. His boss tried to be flexible with his hours, but he was still having a hard time emotionally. I remember sitting with him as he talked to his family about preparing for her death, listening to him make decisions about her funeral, watching his 15 year old sister move out to live with her cousins as they became her legal guardians.
In a matter of weeks, I watched his entire life turn upside down; and when I found out that he had been using bath salts, I felt like my life turned upside down.
That night when I looked into his black lifeless eyes, I remember thinking:
“What’s happening to my life?!
I thought we were making it by and doing ok… How could I not have seen?
Did I not try hard enough?”
As addiction slowly got the better of him, he ended up spending some time in jail and later in rehab. To this day, my heart still breaks for that boy. That’s why I know — this poverty simulation was no game. This is, in fact, everyone’s issue because I’ve already seen it.
It could happen to anyone.
She warned us it would feel like a game, she reminded us this was everyone’s issue.
I watched as the room was quiet again; this time though, I could tell there was no more confusion.
Poverty is a reality for many individuals and families. But unless you’ve experienced poverty, it’s difficult to truly understand. The Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS) bridges that gap from misconception to understanding. CAPS is an interactive immersion experience. It sensitizes community participants to the realities of poverty.
CAPS is not a game. It is based on real Community Action clients and their lives.