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Structure of TEDx event day

One day a year, 100 outside attendees enter Donovan state prison - most for the very first time - to spend the day with 100 Donovan residents.  The attendees sit side-by-side absorbing the heart and wisdom of 12 TEDx talks and performances, half from inside “men in blue” and half from outside community members.  Over lunch and the rest of the day, the attendees engage in TEDxpression: increasingly less structured conversations, building intimacy, trust, empathy and human connection.  Everyone ends the day connected to our common humanity, walking away with a glimpse into the unknown world of the “other.”

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Unprecedented success

The first TEDxDonovanCorrectional was held in May 2017 and, despite being organized by a group of “no-good societal throwaways,” was an unfathomable success!

“The time we shared at Donovan was unforgettable, intense, complex, deeply moving, thought-provoking, meaningful, rich, profound, unsettling, powerful, emotional. To say that yesterday's TEDx was better than any TEDx I have attended is a wild understatement. The honesty, humanity, attention to what really matters in life, was pervasive. The attention to detail and logistical brilliance throughout the day was extraordinary. Whether it is the speakers or the men I got to talk to at lunch and in the afternoon, every conversation mattered, taught me something, gave me a chance to give back and moved me.”  –  Vivienne Bennett

“The time we shared at Donovan was unforgettable, intense, complex, deeply moving, thought-provoking, meaningful, rich, profound, unsettling, powerful, emotional. To say that yesterday's TEDx was better than any TEDx I have attended is a wild understatement. The honesty, humanity, attention to what really matters in life, was pervasive. The attention to detail and logistical brilliance throughout the day was extraordinary. Whether it is the speakers or the men I got to talk to at lunch and in the afternoon, every conversation mattered, taught me something, gave me a chance to give back and moved me.”

Vivienne Bennett

  • At the end of the day, several “people in blue” said a version of one person’s words:  “In my 20 years of incarceration, I have never been seen as human until today”

  • Outside attendees used words like XX and XX to describe their experience

  • In TED’s post-event poll, the event received a Net Promoter Score of an unheard of 100!!!!  Even Google’s free food receives an NPS score of only 60. And the world’s top brands do not break through 80.  (The second TEDx event’s NPS score was 92!!) [Include graphic of NPS score rating]

  • The Donovan Administration called it “the best event ever attended in prison” and later said “anything you’re doing, Mariette, I’m behind”

The greatest testament of Brilliance Inside’s impact came in the form of a spontaneous group hug during the first May 2017 event’s Closing Circle.  Reminder: prison is a violent environment where (1) tough guys don’t hug, (2) races do not mix and (3) being caught engaging with another race can be ‘bad news.’  When called into the center of our Closing Circle to be acknowledged for their tireless invisible work to create the event, the organizing Core Team of Donovan residents fell into a spontaneous interracial group hug in front of their peers.  The love and humanity in the room made this revolutionary anti-culture hug possible, which brought Donovan’s Chief of Mental Health to tears. [photo]

What sets TEDxDonovanCorrectional apart

“The TEDx event at Donovan was the most powerful day I’ve experienced in years (and I work at the Food Bank, so I’m surrounded by people who are overcoming obstacles, finding their way – powerful stories – day in and day out). I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think about those men in blue and wonder how I can be a catalyst to making their lives better.”

Liz Sheahan

It’s already revolutionary (and incredibly logistically complicated!) to hold a TEDx event in prison.  It’s unique for this event to be recurring annually. What makes it truly unique is this: TEDxDonovanCorrectional is entirely organized by a Core Team of Donovan residents who makes every decision that is within its power.  We outside volunteers hold the safe, collaborative, transformative space and then implement the parts the residents cannot complete themselves. AND the weekly meetings with the organizing Core Team are ongoing. We have not missed a Tuesday since we started on December 20, 2016.  Even when it’s Fourth of July, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.

In here lies the magic that has no only transformed the participating residents but also their kids and families, their prison yard and the greater community.

The rippling effect of success

Of the 25 residents who have been Speakers or Core Team members:

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“Sunday proved to be one of the most special/hard/brutifal (beautiful + brutal) moments of my life; you created space for tremendous beauty and truth, to me, there is nothing more revolutionary and gorgeous.”

Skyler McCurine

  • Four have been released from prison (including one who had a sentence of life without the possibility of parole!)

  • Five have been granted a transfer to a lower security prison (of which one was granted clemency)

  • Two others have stepped out of their gangs and destructive lifestyles

  • Two more have had the greatest transformation we have ever witnessed, on their ways to becoming people we would be proud to call neighbor and friend

Starting about 10 months after the public group hug at the first TEDx event in May 2017, the men broke through deeply ingrained prison and gang politics to meet, engage and HUG... on the prison yard!!!  They are role models on the yard and are crafting a new prison environment.

One day, Mariette was stopped on the yard by a resident who said he had attended the second event.  He told her: “Mariette, [the TEDx] event changed my life. I’ve been locked up for 39 years and have not engaged with ‘people from the streets’ in that long.  Speaking to the many outside attendees gave me the confidence that I can step out of prison and live life on the outside.” He then added “This yard is different since you’ve arrived.  Thank you for the changes that take place on the yard thanks to the love you bring to us.”

Yes, the Core Team truly organizes, plans and orchestrates the day-long event.  They do not help us organize; we - outside volunteers - help them organize the event.  The residents

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  • Brainstorm the theme which is then selected by a prison-wide vote

  • Short-list, interview and select the speakers from inside Donovan (pending Admin approval, of course)

  • Select and prioritize the topics to be covered by the outside speakers and then do the final selection of these speakers

  • Craft a structured interaction between attendees from both inside and outside Donovan, they named TEDxpression

  • Organize and run every minute of the 7.5-hour event