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.