Your address will show here +12 34 56 78
Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxMarionCorrectional

The first ever TEDx in an adult prison held its second TEDx on April 21, 2013. To tell the story of this uncommon event we decided to share perspectives from both sides of the prison walls. Our editor and first-time TEDxMarionCorrectional attendee, Kendra Hovey, shared her experience in our May post “From Outside In.” Now we hear about the event “From Inside Out.” Below is our interview (questions submitted, answers returned, all in writing) with five guys on the inside: Dan and Wayne (co-founders and co-curators, and identified as such with an asterick*) as well as attendees Dave, John, and William. But before we begin, a few facts:

  • TEDxMarionCorrectional is hosted by the institution (medium security) and held within its walls.
  • It was founded by inmates Dan and Wayne, who also curate along with Jo Dee Davis (director of Healing Broken Circles) and Jordan Edelheit (student and founder of TEDxOhioStateUniversity).
  • Both Dan and Wayne were introduced to TED while incarcerated at Marion Correctional Institution.   
  • The inaugural event, A Life Worth Living? (9.16.12), was highlighted at TED 2013 and on the TED blog.
  • The curators have been asked to consult on other prison events including the upcoming TEDxSanQuentin (9.20.13).
  • The audience at the second event, titled What’s Next?, was split down the middle: 149 inmates (chosen through an application process), 152 outsiders (registered after entering their name on a sign-up form). Outsiders were a mix. Our editor met a college student, a foundation president, a software guy and a yoga instructor. The event is also live streamed throughout the prison so the entire inmate population (approx: 2,500) has the option to watch.
  • Inmates are identified by first name only in accordance with rules guarding victims’ rights.


TEDxMarionCorrectional: From Inside Out
An interview with Dan, Dave, John, Wayne & William
  

FT: Many inmates were curious about how those from the outside felt about the experience of coming into a prison, what did it feel like for you to have the general public inside?

Wayne*: It is nice to be a host. I don’t often (ever) get the opportunity to have company over, in a social setting…

FT: …And did you have concerns or preconceptions about us?

Dave: I figured there would be some who had issues about coming inside these walls . . . but I was sure we could change their perception.

John: I felt very excited about meeting people from the general public. I know from TV and newspapers that the public is tough on crime. So when the conversation is about inmates the majority of people put up a wall and close their minds. Being able to share with people with an open mind was very enlightening and a new experience. I was very happy with the care that the public showed us.


FT: …So as far as your actual experience interacting with the general public…?

Dan*: I love it! The rapidity that we as a group move past small talk into substantive conversation is somewhat incredible and maybe impossible anywhere else. I am blown away by the organic nature of the day.

Dave: The entire experience for me was awesome. I spoke at the last one so I got to experience this one without the nerves and pressure of performing.

William: [People] seemed genuinely impressed and maybe even a little relieved to learn that something of substance was taking place within these walls.


FT: Turning for a moment to curatorial guidelines—and this is directed to Dan and Wayne—what criteria did you use to choose your speakers? 

Wayne*: Wait! There are curatorial guidelines???

Dan*: Auditions are open to the general population of the prison…

Wayne*: We ask for a rough guideline of their idea. Then anything worth looking at, we tape a five-minute version of their talk and, from there, we choose to work with the guys that had a “something.”

Dan*: Those in the disciplinary housing units were excluded from the audition process by the Warden’s guidelines, as were any men with disciplinary problems in the last 12 months. Other than that, our talkers could be from any socio-economic background and have any educational level. We don’t exclude anyone due to the crime they committed or their criminal history.


FT: In most of the inmate talks this year, both the life experiences that led to crime and the crime itself are acknowledged, but deemphasized—at least as compared to last year’s talks. Was this a curatorial choice? Also, do victim rights limit what inmates can tell about their story?

Dan*: This was a curatorial choice for the most part. After the first event, a lot of the feedback from guys in here was that they could go to any self-help group or AA meeting and hear personal testimonies. This year we kept an eye out for those with an idea or theory that, while not a testimony, was still unique to an inmate’s point of view and true to our theme…

Wayne*: We wanted to move towards a more normal TEDx event. However, having only ever seen two events, we worked towards what we thought a normal event would be like…

Dan*: We still tried to get our talkers to use their personal stories as a vehicle to carry their idea to the audience.

Wayne*: I don’t really know if there are any guidelines on this issue [victim rights]. We assumed there were and made decisions we felt were appropriate. We didn’t censor, we just tried to be sensitive.

Dan*: Not sure if there is a legal limit, however I think there is a limit to what guys are willing to share. Especially in a video that everyone will be able to see forever. Personally, I don’t think fondly of the kid I was at age 21 and I can’t expect anyone else to. So how do I reveal myself enough to show my authenticity without losing my standing in their eyes? Is that, or should that be a factor?


FT: Directed to everyone now, which talks were your favorites?

Dan*: Might as well ask me which of my kids is my favorite! I did have a lot of guys commenting on how awesome the b-boy/b-girl dance piece was [Deryk]. Nothing like that had hit our prison stage before.

Dave: Frank & Company just because that shit was funny.

John: Jim’s “Domino Deeds” was my favorite talk. I’ve known him for 30+ years. Most of the men that are “old-law” and in for capital crimes are very remorseful for their crime and just want to do some good in this world. They’re tired of hating and being hated. I love his idea of paying it forward and helping someone, somehow.

Wayne*: On the day of the event, I truly enjoyed Deryk and Jim—for the inside information I had. In prison, Deryk has had no opportunities to practice his art and the little practice time he got with the outside dancers on Saturday and Sunday was great for him. Jim has been incarcerated for a very long time and never spoke to a group larger than could sit at a picnic table. The courage he displayed in taking the stage was incredible. It helped that both performances were flat out amazing.


FT: Did any talk particularly resonate with your own experience?

Dan*: I think each of the talks affected me in some way, just as every conversation I had during the day did. But I really connected to Diego’s talk. I also had this fantastic conviction that I wouldn’t be like my dad. I would be there, I would keep my promises, I wouldn’t be violent and I wouldn’t make them Browns fans . . .. But then I also abandoned them with my terrible life decisions.

William: Yes, Diego’s talk really touched me. I’m not afraid to admit that I openly wept. The loss of the relationship with my son has been the hardest thing to deal with during my near ten years of incarceration. I’ve missed so much and have no one to blame but myself…

Wayne*: Ben’s thought that I may have to leave the country to be a citizen again really resonated with me. I’ll always face the Google problem.

Dave: Jim’s talk grabbed me. I mentor people, and to see them do something they couldn’t before or to see them get a better understanding of life, or to watch them mature and build a deeper connection. It [mentoring] is like Jim’s paintings—the one life I took I’m trying to give back through it.


FT: Did you learn something new from any of the talks?

Wayne*: I gained something from each person that hit our stage, but the one that jumps out is Sam Grisham. For a chief of security of a prison to share his story like that is quite unique. The perspective he shared of his job was insightful.

Dan*: Another voice that needed to be heard was Rickey’s [“Intelligence is the New Swagger”]. We need to counter the culture of failure that our kids are bombarded with and Rickey’s talk might reach those that Glee won’t.

John: I know that it will be hard to adjust back into society, but after hearing Naj speak… his talents and qualifications should have outweighed his past, not to mention the number of years he served in here. If society was against him, how will they react to me after serving 40 years? Should I not even try to fit in, sparing society the embarrassment and me the heartache?


FT: Did this TEDx event have a positive effect on you? On other prisoners? In what ways?

Dan*: The inside guys got to see that they are still human beings, that prison hadn’t dehumanized them as much as they feared, and that society, albeit a small section of it, will still converse and interact with them.

John: If this event changed one person’s perception of life, that people change, and deserve a second chance, it could not help but have a positive effect on me and on all prisoners.

Dan*: And to have been able to somehow encourage a man to step out of his peer group and put his identity on the line to spread an idea or more importantly share his story is a positive effect if ever I’ve seen one.


FT: What do you see as the positive effects for those outside of prison?

William: To see first-hand that incarceration can in fact cause someone to re-evaluate themselves and their decision-making process, and begin anew.

John: A chance to look at people differently.

Dave: It allows us to connect with the public and allow them to see we still have something to offer the world.

Dan*: The 6 o’clock news mentions on a daily basis that someone has been sentenced to x amount of time. But what happens while they’re in prison? How are they treated? What program is offered and also facilitated successfully? And x implies that person will be returning to the community. How do you want us to return to your community? The not very good human I was when I came into these walls? Or as the human being who has lived up to his potential, lives each day wholeheartedly and with communal self-awareness? These are questions that those outside of prison need to ask. These are the conversations that need to happen more often than the tougher on crime conversations. It will take many more events before we as a society start to question whether we need to, or can, come up with a better way to lower crime and rehabilitate those that we incarcerate.

Wayne*: And it offers insight into a part of society that they had no idea was so large. With the number of people being incarcerated and released each year, aspects of prison culture have already seeped into mainstream culture. And you may not realize how many felons there are in every neighborhood in America. How a society chooses to deal with criminals impacts the overall health of society.


FT: What kinds of responses did you get, if any, from inmates who watched the event on the live stream?

Dave: That we are rock stars!—no, seriously, I am.

John: They all want to be part of TEDxMarionCorrectional. The two doormen were bombarded with guys wanting to enter into the event for session two.

Wayne*: Many were proud to know that such an event was taking place in “their” institution…

Dan*: Inspired. Inspired is the word I heard the most from guys. Inspired by the fact that a TEDx event could take place in prison. Inspired that they weren’t the only ones who thought the way our talkers (inside and outside) did. Inspired to hear that CEOs recognize the stark reality of social acceptance for ex-offenders and are working towards a remedy. Inspired…wow! Isn’t that what every TED talk aims to do? Not only inform its audience, but inspire action from its audience too?

FT: Thank you.

0

Events, Follow This, TEDTalks, TEDxColumbus, TEDxMarionCorrectional

The first ever TEDx in an adult prison held its second TEDx on April 21. To tell the story of this uncommon event we’ll hear, first, from our editor Kendra Hovey, attending TEDxMarionCorrectional for the first time. Second, pending approval of the institution, we’ll also hear from Marion inmates, both those involved and those attending. Kendra’s story begins below, but first, a few facts:

  • TEDxMarionCorrectional is hosted by the institution (medium security) and held within its walls.
  • It was founded by inmates Dan and Wayne, who also curate along with Jo Dee Davis (director of Healing Broken Circles ) and Jordan Edelheit (student and founder of TEDxOhioStateUniversity).
  • Both Dan and Wayne were introduced to TED while incarcerated at Marion Correctional Institution.   
  • The inaugural event, A Life Worth Living? (9.16.12), was highlighted at TED 2013 and on the TED blog.
  • The curators have been asked to consult on other prison events including the upcoming TEDxSanQuentin (9.20.13).
  • The audience at the second event, titled What’s Next?, was split down the middle: 149 inmates (chosen through an application process), 152 outsiders (registered after entering their name on a sign-up form). Outsiders were a mix. Our editor met a college student, a foundation president, a software guy and a yoga instructor. The event is also live streamed throughout the prison so the entire inmate population (approx: 2,500) has the option to watch.
  • Inmates are identified by first name only in accordance with rules guarding victims’ rights.
  • Any questions for inmates about the event can be left in comments. We will forward to Marion Correctional.


TEDxMarionCorrectional: From Outside In

by Kendra Hovey

The TED format stresses substance over status, yet the TED stage is status, making this meritocratic aspiration a bit harder to pull off. Nonetheless, I like the attempt and it’s why I purposely go into each event knowing as little about each speaker as possible. This should explain why I didn’t think about TEDxMarionCorrectional until the night before, and why even then it was only logistics (can I take in a pen? paper?) and cracking-wise (“last night before I go to prison tomorrow, honey”). But it doesn’t.

When I arrive at the prison the next morning I enter through a small building. With chairs in even rows, a wall of lockers, manned desk, security gate and waiting room, it feels vaguely like a rural airport. After locking up my stuff, I sign-in, get my nametag, complimentary gift—a pen—pass through security and then, with a group of about 20, I’m led across the courtyard into a larger building. Passing in and out of locked enclosures, we walk by the visiting room, a barbershop, small holding cells, a photo display of wardens, and eventually down a narrow hallway and through a set of double doors, spilling us into a large, open room humming with conversation.

I’m barely in when, to my right, an inmate welcomes me, followed by another and another. One says hello, another nods, more smile, many extend a hand; a greeting is followed by an exchange of names and we’re talking, and then that conversation blends into another conversation and another and, just like that, I’m engaged in the most seamless mingling between 300 strangers I have ever encountered.

At one point, Wayne interrupts. The co-founder and co-curator (with fellow inmate Dan) is at the mic to tell us what we are already doing: This is the casual meet-and-greet section of the day, he says. It will last one hour, and at 12:30 sharp the first session will begin. Rules. They are at least one thing TED and prison have in common.

Returning to our conversations, an inmate asks if I’d been inside a prison before. The answer is easy: no. Yet, my head fills with images of prisons, ones I’ve toured or explored, and prisons in movies and TV . . . but had I been in a prison with prisoners? No. But that didn’t stop me from believing I had.

Then he asks, “What were you thinking before you came in?” and I am stumped. Nothing. Because my mind is open, I’d like to say, but my mind is closed—lights out, door locked, closed-for-business closed. If I had let myself think, I realize just then, I might not be here.

TEDxMarionCorrectional is on a Sunday, it’s an hour away, it’s all-day, and when you’re in, you’re in; no coming and going, no cell phones (good lord!), and no outside food. With so many easy-outs, even a standard issue fear of the unknown could make me chicken-out, let alone all the assumptions that this man’s question just let loose. If I had let myself think, would I have been fearful? Apprehensive? Suspicious? Cautious? Guarded? Worried? Contemptuous, even? Was I? I don’t know. I don’t think so. But that could be because, now that I’m here, they all sound pretty nutty. What I am feeling is relaxed, comfortable, interested, at-ease—I’m having fun.

At 12:30 (on the dot) Wayne starts things off with the usual reminders—no flash photography; phones off. This, of course, gets a big laugh, as we’ve all just sacrificed our devices for the day. “But,” says Wayne, throwing us a bone, “for those of you who really need your phones . . . at the break . . . we will have counselors available to help you.”

During the first session we hear stories about fatherhood, nerds, intelligence, change, reentry, Abe Lincoln, enemies, and the talent, abilities, and charity that can be found inside these prison walls.

At the break, I meet an inmate named Todd and find out he is the same Todd whose art was just featured in Najmuddeen Salaam’s talk. I also find out that when Naj said Todd had made a grandfather clock “by hand” he meant by hand. No power tools. No tools. To shape the molding Todd used a paper clip.

In the second session, we hear about gardening, laughter, inner demons, and, again, the earlier themes of family, inmate philanthropy, reentry, social acceptance, and the lack thereof.

What I can say about the talks is: watch them. I’d suggest in order, but if you’d prefer to start with some laughs, try FrankHerrington&Co or Ricky. If you’re ready to jump headlong into heart wrenching, it’s a toss-up, but I’ll suggest Diego. For a sound argument, there’s Juan. For inspiration, you could go with the inmate who figured out how to stock neighboring food banks or the one who’s an expert fundraiser for individuals in need. With either one, Ben or Jim, you’ll also get heart wrenching and hilarity—they do say that in prison humor is a matter of survival.

Of the eleven talks, six are by inmates, one by a former inmate, and four by not-ever inmates. The sessions also include two TED videos, one dance, and two musical performances. Without a doubt, the inmates are the most compelling speakers, though each of the other four share information worth hearing or a perspective necessary to the whole conversation.


I would like to say more about the talks themselves, but the truth is every time I try, I fail. I’ll start thinking about Diego’s talk, where he traces his downfall to the essential mistake of leaving his baby son and his redemption to renewing that relationship, and my mind spills over to the conversation I had with a “lifer” and his fiancé about their relationship, and also to the between-talks spontaneous hug between Dan and his daughter.

I’ll consider the talk by Ben, who asks, “Will I have to move to another country to be a citizen again?” and his question becomes utterly inseparable from everything I’ve experienced that day: talks; interactions; witnessing others interact; standing in line in the “chow hall;” the hoots and hollers from the audience; the fact that the first to hoot was Marion’s own warden; Jim’s Chinet-plate painting I walk out the door with and his hilariously wry and moving talk explaining it; and even later hearing myself say “I had dinner with two lifers” and knowing how weird that sounds and how not even close to weird it was.

TEDx was introduced as a democratization of TED and what better example than TEDxMarionCorrectional: The oft-called “elitist” TED brings us inside our most disparaged and ghettoized community. At the same time, I wish the TED rules might bend a bit for this event. Watching online you’ll see what happened on the red circle on the stage, but you won’t get to know Wayne, nor will you hear Rusty’s banter as emcee. You won’t see the Speed TEDxing sessions, or dinner in the “pollination station.” Watch anyway.

But as you do, understand that at TEDxMarionCorrectional, what is talked about on stage—life inside; life outside; the preparation, transition, connection, division between the two—is exactly what is happening off stage.

It is a powerful thing to experience and as can happen with powerful experiences, I walked out a different person than I walked in. It’s a cliché I won’t even try to avoid. But I will try to be more specific:

For starters, there’s how I think about the question: Would you ever hire an ex-prisoner?

Before: I would have entertained this theoretical question.
After: I realize it’s not a question. It’s the same as asking, “Would you hire a human?” To which the answer is: “Depends, which human?”

Before: I would have accepted “better safe than sorry” as an understandable response to this question.
After: I understand that there is no “better safe then sorry.” To reduce a person to one thing, and then use it to deny what is offered to others, is always dangerous.
It’s not as if I didn’t know this before—it’s Humanity 101—but I needed the inmates at Marion to help me practice it.

Before: I didn’t think about who was behind the walls at Marion.
After: I know there are some impressive people behind those walls. Many are doing more good for the world certainly than I am. I hold this knowledge right alongside an understanding and sensitivity to the reality that, to some, just to hear the name of these men is painful.

I left TEDxMarionCorrectional with a new and intensely sharp clarity on some things and perpetually unresolvable confusion on many others, including the discordant fact that the point of prison is to keep those inside separate from me, yet in breaking that separation my life is enriched.

Don’t misunderstand, no part of me is calling for those walls to come down and my inner skeptic remains alive and well: I get that I saw one pre-approved slice of one prison and I’m also aware that prisons reward good behavior in a way that life does not. But my skeptic is also smarter now, more just, and less prone to turn a fact into an excuse for prejudice or an eraser of good deeds.

I also left TEDxMarionCorrectional feeling lucky. For my freedom? No, turns out I need to work on my gratitude because that was not my first thought. I felt lucky for having gone in. All I did was type my name into Eventbrite and clear one Sunday, and in return I received the huge gift of this experience. For next year, I know what I’m getting into and I can’t wait.

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

0

Follow This, TEDTalks, TEDxColumbus

 

[by Kendra Hovey]

It’s TED week, when those both interested and able gather in Long Beach and Palm Springs to hear the latest “ideas worth spreading.” One early highlight from this year’s conference is the appearance of TEDxColumbus on the TED stage. On Monday, as part of the Inside TED session, our own Ruth Milligan, along with five other TEDx organizers, spoke about the growing phenomenon that is TEDx. The presentation to 1,500 TEDsters got a standing ovation.

“While the brief session was highly orchestrated,” Ruth reports from Long Beach, “it revealed the insight that organizers have: TEDx is a powerful medium to ignite conversation and spur inspiration in any community, school, prison or slum. For me, it was about having Columbus be on the global map. I was honored to be there.”

Joining Ruth on the stage were organizers from Baghdad, Iraq; Kibera, Kenya; Madrid, Spain; and Sydney, Australia, as well as another organizer from Columbus, Jordan Edelheit, a Junior at Ohio State University who is representing TEDxMarionCorrectional, the first TEDx inside an adult prison. As a group, the six demonstrate the reach and relevance of TED across continents and populations. Columbus, as you may have noticed, is the sole city from the Americas, both North and South. It’s a nice recognition, but perhaps you’re wondering—Why?

One explanation is that TEDxColumbus and TEDx basically grew up together.

When TED announced the new initiative in 2009, Ruth Milligan applied for a license soon after. In a few short months she and co-organizer Nancy Kramer pulled together the first event. With eight speakers and an audience of 300, it was, Ruth estimates, the 35th ever TEDx. That number has now grown to over 6,000. TEDxColumbus returned in 2010, and every year since. It is one of only a handful of TEDx events that, like TEDx itself, will turn five this year.

Still, TEDxColumbus is not the only successful and long-running TEDx. It is, though, the only one organized by Ruth Milligan. Let’s just be honest: Ruth is good at this. TED knows it. And that’s why she’s presenting.

The TEDx manual runs about a hundred pages, but that first year, it was closer to four. When other TEDx organizers needed advice, they were sent to Ruth. She became a go-to mentor for TEDx, eventually working with TED to develop a series of learning tools. You can hear her voice on seven or so TEDx Webinars, including a Q&A with TED curator Chris Anderson (shown above, giving the TEDx presentation a standing ovation). More recently, she was commissioned to do a how-to video. She’s led workshops at TEDActive, and was brought in as a consultant for TEDxSanDiego. Add it all up and that’s a whole lot of TEDCred.

8,980 to be exact.

No, I did not make that up. Yes, there is something called TEDCred. As a comparison, TED Head Chris Anderson has a TEDCred of 815.

For the record, Ruth was utterly unaware of her score. When I told her, she was visibly shocked, but still she shrugged it off: “Maybe it’ll make up for all the A’s I didn’t get in college,” she said.

If nothing else, “8,980” reflects a big chunk of Ruth Milligan’s time and energy. TED-style organizing is a lot of work, but no way will she be stopping anytime soon. It’s her thing, her passion, what Sir Ken Robinson might call her element; it’s her “KitKat,” as Ruth herself will say, drawing on the name of her father’s old (and frustratingly) all-male speech club (The KitKat Club) where, as an occasional young tagalong, she first got hooked.

Ruth Milligan, you see, is a speech junkie.

In the days before the internet she was known to troll c-span looking for a fix, and still, every year, she happily anticipates the arrival of Spring and with it a whole new crop of graduation speeches. Helping people find, craft and share their message is something she enjoys. Along the way, she says, there is almost always emotion and connection, and sometimes action and change.

One constant from the first year to the next, she says, is that “TED continually inspires conversations I never knew were possible.” [Her insights into the process are shared on the TED Blog. It’s a concise, thoughtful and highly recommended read.]

As far as contrasts, “the biggest change from year-one,” she says, “I no longer have to explain TED or defend it anymore.” Nor does she need to push ticket sales. In 2009, the first 50 sold “out of the gate” to TED fans. Speaker connections and the community around the Wexner Center and OSU accounted for the next 100. So, how’d she sell the remaining 150? In her own words, “I worked my ass off,” she says.

Another change is that speakers are now finding her (or in some cases their PR agent). By the same token, she and the curatorial team have honed their process. “I’ll listen to anyone,” she says, “but we don’t make the mistake anymore of accepting a speaker for the wrong reason.” She’s also learned to be blunt. “This will take 30…40…50 hours,” she now tells speakers, “It won’t be easy. It will be messy.”

Being on stage at TED was a high point for Ruth Milligan and, as always, she would love to see a TEDxColumbus speaker at TED or featured on TED.com. But, “far more important now,” she says, is what’s happening here: “I see the power of people sharing even if no one else outside of our community hears them.” It builds community. It can lead to action, whether for just one person or on a larger scale. Columbus, as a “smart and open city” needs an elevated dialogue, and TEDxColumbus is a platform, Ruth says, for turning up that dialogue. “People trust it and consider it part of the cultural fabric,” and that, for her, is the most gratifying part of all.

There’s one last question I had to ask Ruth the Speech Coach:

“Nervous?”

“No.”

She put herself through the same paces she would her clients. But, honestly, she’s an easy client: “For whatever reason this is not my challenge…Figuring out how to dry my hair well…That’s my challenge.”

 

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

Featured photo courtesy of Nancy Kramer; all others courtesy of TED

0