Ideas on lockdown: A look at TEDx events held in prisons

From the TED Blog’s week-long celebration of TEDx:

Yes, TEDx has been behind bars. Since the birth of the TEDx program in 2009, independently organized events have been held at correctional facilities in at least three countries — at youth and adult institutions, both with speakers and without.

In Spain, organizer Antonella Broglia was determined to bring TEDx to Soto Del Real prison outside Madrid. “They do not have Internet inside the prison,” she explains. “They do not even have the infrastructures to make sure they will have Internet in the future. Bringing TEDTalks inside that huge prison made them known to people who had no idea TED existed. I believe this is our major responsibility as organizers: open new minds, contact new hearts. And I was inspired by a group of volunteers who work to use culture in prison as a tool for redemption. They made me see that a TEDTalk could be a means for redemption—or at least for discussion.”

So far, there have been two TEDx Salon events (where only TEDTalks are shown) in the prison and right now, Brogilia is working with volunteers to make TEDxSotoDelReal a standard event. She hopes that inmates will not just be audience members, but speakers as well.

Five thousand miles away in the United States, TEDxMingusMountain grew out of another event, TEDxScottsdale. Organizer Bob Diehl explains, “A woman marched up to me, announced that she is a convicted felon and that she has now dedicated her life to helping incarcerated women live full lives in prison, and told me she wants to do a TEDx in [a] prison.” Unsurprisingly, Diehl was intrigued.

This woman, Sue Ellen Allen, took the reins and became the organizer for TEDxMingusMountain, planned to take place five months later in a residential facility for 12 to 18-year-old girls in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

But the journey to TEDxMingusMountain wasn’t easy. Allen says, “The administration was hesitant. They were unfamiliar with TED. While educating them on the concept, we had a change in the director halfway though the discussions.”

Diehl and Allen were forced to push back the event date by almost a year, after an unrelated event put the facility into lockdown.

“We were only told six weeks [before the event] we could have a new date,” says Diehl. “The entire original TEDx team and presenter roster were no longer available, so it was a challenge to get it done in time.”

Still, the show went on.

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TEDx at TEDActive Experiences #1: Meeting the Community

Elena Zgardan is the Organizer of TEDxChisinau and TEDxYouth@Chisinau, TEDx events in Moldova. This is her experience from Sunday, February 26th at TEDActive:

After an over 20 hour flight, I arrived 3 hours prior to the TEDx Workshop event at TEDActive 2012 taking place in Palm Springs, California.  When I arrived, I was afraid that I would not be able to stay awake for the workshop but the early breakfast with other TEDx organizers definitely changed the mood for the day.

After a delicious breakfast we headed to the Riviera, the place where the main event is taking place. It took only seconds to get surrounded by about 250 TEDx Organizers and that was the first time I felt the TEDx community so close!

Buses were ready to take us to a local Wild Life Park and start the workshop activity, but not before we registered and received a gorgeous bag full of carefully selected gifts!

We are all now at the place where the workshop took place. I must say TEDx Workshop was the most amazing thing that happened to me in a long time. I was amazed at the TEDx community and  how they get to bond with each other.  I was amazed by how a TEDx organizer can be a great speaker and to share so many useful experiences with the entire community! We  joined 11 great speeches provided by TEDx Organizers sharing their experiences and their ideas. Not less important and informative was the presentation and the Q&A session by the TED team. It became an interactive, informative and challenging part of the day.

After a generous coffee break we got to feel the generosity of strangers during the Brainstorm Sessions, where all the people from the group shared their experiences and learnings from their events. It was an hour of brainstorming sessions that felt like 10 minutes of chat with a really good old friend.

And to make the day even better we got on the busses with lunch bags in our hands and headed off to the nature walk at Coachella Valley. We went on for a memorable walk all the way to Palm Oasis  and back.  Then with a relaxed body and a mind full of ideas we were heading to the dinner and networking party at Sunnylands we continued on with the networking and meeting,  more great people!

On the way back to the hotel I thought about all the stuff we got to do today, and I think each one of them contributed so that it became a day to remember!

It was a day to remember because I loved it when absolutely strange people become your family. It’s the place where if you’ll put your hand on someone’s shoulder and say hi!, you’ll end up working on a collaboration project, or you’ll find yourself developing new ideas. Even when you decide to stay alone in a corner because of the jet lag, people will come to you and start offering their support and help. Just like the great organizers from TEDxRheinMain and TEDxKids@BC helped me sharing my experience with you.

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.

TEDxYouthDay Viewing Party at a Juvenile Prison

The juvenile prison in Lipcani, Moldova is working to empower youth by embracing obstacles and creating opportunities. Young people understand the difference between right and wrong; they also understand the role the environment plays in influencing society. The prison has a history of creating projects that stimulate young minds, inspiring them to take action. What separates us from them is very little. What unites us with them is a lot. We all share a common interest: “ideas worth spreading.”

TEDxYouth@Chisinau will be watched as a livestream from the prison.

In 2005, the juvenile prison from Lipcani was the first to have a penitentiary newspaper managed by the young inmates. In 2011, it launched the Photovoice Project, showcasing their way of life using the power of photography.

At TEDxYouth@Chisinau, our mission is to share good ideas, independent of location. So on November 20th, 2011, the juvenile prison in Lipcani, Moldova will get to experience a piece of TEDxYouthDay through a broadcast of the TEDxYouth@Chisinau livestream, where 47 young viewers will watch the event live and give feedback.

Viorel Pahomi, a TEDxYouth@Chisinau speaker, believes that his message is for everyone and that people should not be discriminated against just because some people walk free and others are in jail. Freedom of thought is everywhere; creativity and intelligence do not have boundaries.

Another TEDxYouth@Chisinau speaker, Nicolae Apostu, will be speaking about “The Republic of Facebook.” He wants to demonstrate that it is not only politicians who have agency in this country.

We believe that everybody will gain something from our event, whether big or small. A new idea, a new passion, a new drive.

As an official TEDxYouthDay reporter, I will be at the Lipcani juvenile prison to watch with them. It will be a great opportunity to go there and to see another point of view. I think that they all should have the opportunity to be speakers at some point, to teach us life lessons.

TEDxYouthDay is a global event that brings us closer to our ideas and the parts of our lives we all share around the world. TEDxYouth@Chisinau may be a life changing experience.

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