Inspiring Youth at a Juvenile Prison

TEDxYouth@Chisinau — a TEDxYouthDay event — held a viewing party for 47 young people at the juvenile prison in Lipcani, Moldova on November 20th, 2011.

The group of viewers was asked to write what youth means to them on a piece of paper, and then to create a paper plane and fly it through the air. Some of them drew prison symbols, others wrote the names of social networks that they have heard about, and some wrote that they want to fall in love, or to love, or to have a family, or to have a house and a place that could give them warmth.

This group exercise made me think about the fact that we tend to give material things to people, but it is easy to forget that we all just want to be loved. For example, in this juvenile prison, there are places for the prisoners to eat, sleep, watch sports games, and play football with teams from nearby cities. But the guards and other people who work in the prison don’t treat the juvenile prisoners like kids — they seem to treat them like a job. Seventy percent of the young prisoners are not in prison for the first time.

Throughout the viewing party, it was hard to keep the group engaged, but some TEDxYouth@Chisinau talks really made an impression on the juvenile prisoners. Petru Scaletchi’s speech about cooking seemed to be a popular one — perhaps because cooking is so universal. They also listened attentively and with enthusiasm to Victor Berzan’s speech about robotics, and some of them commented that the talk exposed them ideas and innovations that they would have never thought a Moldovan could have created.

For some of the juvenile prisoners, this TEDxYouth@Chisinau viewing party may have been just another Sunday afternoon. But I believe that it was more than that for most of them. One boy, while watching Ionela Costachi’s speech, noted to a nearby friend, “So if you have books, you don’t need tools for the fields,” meaning that being able to use your brain allows you to avoid physical labor in a career.

It is hard for many of these juvenile prisoners to imagine another way of life, because they cannot explore communities outside of their prison. At times, these prisoners discuss the Internet and people outside of their surroundings with the same unfamiliarity and curiosity that other people have when discussing aliens and life on Mars.

As young people, we all need role models so that we can make change and progress in our lives — no matter who we are or where we are in the world. For the juvenile prisoners at the TEDxYouth@Chisinau viewing party, watching these amazing talks allowed them to learn about people who they may now view as their role models — people whose messages might have inspired them to take a step in a new, positive direction.

Written by Alexandru Lebedev, a young official TEDxYouth@Chisinau reporter.

A pre-event story by Alexandru Lebedev about the TEDxYouth@Chisinau viewing party at the juvenile prison in Lipcani, Moldova.

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