The vicious cycle of underprivileged youths going in and out of the carceral system is not a game, but one has been developed that shows the obstacles and dead ends that exist in today’s legal system.
Bernardo Semis created the tabletop board game, The Run Around, during his correctional sentence in Massachusetts in 2019.
It’s designed to be impossible to win, as it traps Black and Brown children the way the systems of power do every day, he told The Boston Globe.
Each player starts with three characters of color placed in maximum security prison.
“Players hit a barrage of obstacles, like a lengthy parole journey of gray spaces and trap cards,” the Globe reported. “Even when you get out, you’re stuck,” said Semis.
Susan Rivers, executive director of non-profit games foundation iThrive, used $370,000 in grant money from the William T. Grant Foundation to collaborate with Semis and a group of system-involved 17- to 25-year-olds.
The Sept. 28 Globe article reported everyone got together Saturday mornings with Rivers, educational consultant Janelle Ridley, and associate professor Beverly Evans of Lesley University to pinpoint failures in the justice system.
The youths described the effects such failures had in their lives. “There are stories on the board — their stories,” said Ridley.
Rivers added that the game is “lonely and boring” and intentionally constructed without fun in mind. “Even dice felt too enjoyable.”
Requiring the same level of critical thinking as Monopoly and Sorry Sliders, the game’s designers deconstructed the broken justice system, and players are charged to deal with its senselessness, said the Globe.
Designers incorporated their own experiences with incarceration, lack of support when reentering society, violence within their communities — and even their physical likenesses — into the game.
The completed version of The Run Around won a gold medal at the Serious Play Awards. Prior to taking top honors, the creators field-tested the game on law enforcement and educators at the Lesley Institute for Trauma Sensitivity.
Ridley said the game’s goal was to reveal lapses within the current infrastructure of criminal justice systems — and to point out such problems to those with influence.
“It’s an exercise in asking, Why is the system designed this way?” said Rivers. “Why are there not more opportunities? And why are there not more elements in this game — and in reality — that provide care and concern for the players?”
Massachusetts data shows Boston recorded nearly 7,800 youth arrests between 2009 and 2018.
With grant money running out soon, Rivers said iThrive and the S.E.E.D Institute, a partnership between iThrive and Ridley’s nonprofit Transition H.O.P.E., continue to look for ways to raise funding for the future.
“We want change,” said Semis. “We did not create The Run Around for us — it’s for the kids growing up. I don’t want young Black kids to figure out about the system the way I did.”