Punish? Or Reward?


A couple weeks ago, one of the members of the TEDx Core Team at Donovan prison was sent to Ad Seg, or the hole. Doh! It saddens me as TEDx is intended to be a reward for good behavior. The hope is that the men commit themselves to making the choices that keep them on the “right road” and no longer flirt with the rules. Despite his dynamic positivity and strong leadership on our team, this guy made one or more bad choices that sent him to Ad Seg. So, how does this impact his participation in TEDx when he gets out? It feels easy to say that he did not exhibit positive behavior and, therefore, he’s off the team; he lost his privilege. Yet, if the intent is to support these men’s growth, the answer is not that simple.

Many men at Donovan exemplify the journey from dark to light, from black to white. The black is their traumatic childhoods and violent pasts leading them to prison. The white is a healthy, balanced, compassionate and productive life. Between black and white, there is grey. And grey is made up of black and white. So, the men’s journeys start with a lot of black and moments of white. As they move closer to the light, the journeys become increasingly white with moments of black.

The driving motivation for this shift from black to white is always a purpose greater than self: kids, family’s love, God, knowledge, TEDx… What it is is irrelevant as long as it provides the motivation to make the right decisions, especially when confronted with tough choices.

So, removing a person’s motivation, a person’s purpose, may backfire on their journey towards white. It may actually support a man’s fall back into their destructive ways.

I intend that TEDx becomes valuable enough in the men’s lives that it motivates them to make the “right road” choices, that TEDx has the potential to become that motivating purpose. I also intend to have the compassion to understand that, even when we are deeply committed, ALL of us have our moments of black.

Not always an easy line to dance…