Prison to school pipeline: education as transformation | Douglas Wood | TEDxIronwoodStatePrison

Translator: Delia Cohen
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney I want to tell you
a little bit of a story. I was raised in a very small
rural community in Spartanburg, South Carolina: a little tiny hamlet in the northeastern part
of Spartanburg County near the North Carolina border. It was a little hamlet, not really a town, what you would officially call it. It was a place where
there was 100% African Americans and a very tiny, tiny,
tight-knit community. It was founded
by my great-great-grandfather who was a freed slave, and he handed down that land
to all of his descendants. And believe it or not,
it’s called “Little Africa.” And I’m very proud of the fact
that it’s called Little Africa. My parents are people who just
went to high school originally, and they really tried to instill
within their two boys the importance of education. So, we didn’t really have much
in Little Africa, but we had really, really good schools. Now, my father didn’t make it. He killed himself by shooting himself
with a sawed off double-barrelled shotgun when I was 11 years old. But my mother was a very, very important
part of my life and continues to be, and she later on went to college. It was the proudest moment of her life, and one of the proudest
moments of my life, and I’m very proud of my mother today. Now, 30 minutes away
was our extended family. I used to love to go there because
we had the most amazing cousins, and one cousin, in particular,
I really, really was drawn to. I’ll call him Tyrell. Tyrell was a very rambunctious kid. I really liked him because he used
to always play all these games and he was always
the leader, a little rough, especially when it came
to my older brother. I remember one time he went to their house and he just flew over the couch,
attacked my brother, and wrestled him to the ground
for no reason whatsoever. And my mother used to always say, “Tyrell, that’s a bad boy.
Tyrell’s just bad.” And my grandmother used to say, “Now Tyrell, you keep being bad
and I’m going to get my hickory.” (Laughter) Now, I always thought Tyrell
was a pretty cool kid: very smart, very
inquisitive, very creative. But something happened
when we both turned 18 years old. Now, keep in mind,
we’re only 11 months apart. I went to college; Tyrell went to prison. Now, there are a lot of circumstances
as to why that happened. Tyrell made some very bad choices. But I truly, truly believe that sometimes,
no matter how hard you try, the cards are stacked against you. I really, honestly, truly believe that. In this country, as we all know, three out of four African American males,
especially low income, will experience some form of criminal justice supervision. And there are many reasons for that. For example, with Tyrell and myself, my little elementary school was
in the middle of a peach field, and our grade, our entire
grade, was 15 people. So, if I fell below the cracks,
my teachers could pick me up and really focus on me
and get me back on the path. Tyrell went to a very crowded,
urban junior high school beside the projects. So, unfortunately, he got caught up
in the criminal justice system and ultimately went to prison
for robbery and assault. Now, what’s also interesting to me, and this is what we need
to really acknowledge, that if you’re an African American male
in this country in particular, and you go into the criminal
justice system, you are abandoned, and it makes life so much more difficult, and your opportunities are limited. Now, this would be a surprise
to Carlos Rosato. Carlos Rosato grew up in the South Bronx, got in trouble, was arrested
for armed robbery himself and sent to prison
in New York state for 16 years. But Carlos discovered
the Bard Prison Initiative, and while he was there, he earned an Associates degree
and a Bachelors degree. And today Carlos is an engineer. He’s a great member of his company, and he’s a wonderful,
solid member of his community. It cost the state of New York
$54,000 dollars a year to house him in a New York state prison. Today, Carlos makes
$90,000 dollars a year, and he is, in fact, a taxpayer. And I think that’s really,
really important. We often hear about
the school to prison pipeline, but no one ever talks about
the prison to school pipeline. And that’s why it’s so great
to be here at Ironwood, because you have a high-quality,
post-secondary program. As you know, there’s a dearth
in correctional education programs all over the country, and it’s mostly being funded
by charities and foundations. The Ford Foundation is very proud that we fund 36 correctional
programs across six states. When I came to the foundation
three years ago, I was asked to rethink and redo
the higher education programs, so I went all over the country
interviewing 326 people. I interviewed community college
presidents, university presidents, members of higher education boards
and commissions, legislators, governors, I had students groups and parents groups, and we were trying to figure out
what could Ford’s added value be. And in fact, it turns out that a lot
of foundations were not putting money into very challenging populations,
such as immigrants and veterans and those who are incarcerated
and formerly incarcerated, but this should be no surprise to you that the Ford Foundation has invested
in correctional education. For nearly 77 years, the Ford Foundation
has been at the forefront of the civil rights movement, supporting legendary struggles
for self-determination and freedom for the most disenfranchised
people all over the world, and we’re very proud of that. (Applause) I went to 28 prisons interviewing people, and I didn’t meet a single person who
didn’t want to turn their lives around. But we know the reality: 600,000 people actually come
out of prison every year, and we know that two-thirds
recidivate after three years. You know, there’s an old saying –
we all know what I’m about to say – and that is the definition of insanity
is doing the same thing over and over and over again
and expecting a different result. Well, as you all know,
our criminal justice system is broken, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We posit a number of questions
at the Ford Foundation: “what ifs.” What if, in fact, you go
beyond the bare minimum of providing people in prison
with a basic education and provide them with a high-quality,
post-secondary education, much better than they ever had
when they were kids? What if, in fact, you created innovative
college programs in every single jail, and every single prison,
all over America, all over America, so that you can turn car thieves
and robbers and drug dealers into engineers and entrepreneurs who
can take their critical thinking skills to solve the most vexing problems
in America including mass incarceration and breaking the inter-generational
cycle of poverty? (Applause) (Cheers) What if, in fact, we use those resources
that we use today to build more prisons and also to pay companies to run prisons to divert those resources
to be put into the prisons that focus on technology and knowledge so that when they get out, they can
be prepared for the 21st century? And what if instead of looking at prisons
as a revolving door of punishment, we saw prisons as
an on-ramp of opportunity, so that our communities can be
renewed all over this country? (Applause) Let me tell you this: This is not just an issue of will; this is an issue of systems
and policy change. We can hear it all over again,
over and over and over about the ten steps. But the real issue is really being focused
on how we work with policy makers, community-based organizations,
local and state officials to change the policies that have resulted in what we have today
in our criminal justice system. (Applause) (Cheers) Our criminal justice system is broken, but education is so important because it allows you to explore who you are, to find out who you are,
and to make new discoveries. One of my favorite poems
is “Little Gidding” by T.S. Eliot: “We shall never cease from exploration, and at the end of our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” As you are in your educational
experiences here at Ironwood, think about that: how education can be a wonderful
opportunity for exploration and discovery. One of my favorite people in the world
is Doris Buffett, sister of Warren. She funds programs like this
all over the country, including the fabulous program,
Hudson Link at Sing Sing, and Sean Pica, we’re very happy today,
is here; he founded that program. (Applause) Doris called me up one day. She said, “Doug, will you come
to graduation at Sing Sing?” Now look, when Doris Buffett calls,
you say “yes,” but at the same time, I wanted to know what
was going on up there. And I said to Doris,
“What time do I meet you?” And she said, “Meet us out in front
of the Big House at six.” (Laughter) We went there, and it was absolutely
wonderful, because I heard the best valedictorian speech
I’ve ever heard in my life. Victor Anderson, whose father
was also incarcerated, and this is what he said: “Look around you. You will see us again. You will see us in the communities. You will see us in the workplace. You will see us in PTA meetings. You will see us at civic centers. You will see us in board meetings. You will see us at Yankees games
and Knicks games with our children and our family
and our wives. But most important, you will see us
as productive citizens.” I absolutely love love love that quote. Now, I want to turn back
to my cousin Tyrell. What of Tyrell? Well, today he finished his GED, he is now on the road
to getting an Associates degree at a technical college, and he sees now the power of education. So, guess what? He’s not bad. He’s not bad at all. He’s me. He’s you. He’s all of us who see education as transformative, as reinventing, and as redemption. And so I say to you today, I have not given up on my cousin. America shouldn’t give up on my cousin. America shouldn’t give up on any of you, and America shouldn’t
give up on any of us. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)

18 thoughts on “Prison to school pipeline: education as transformation | Douglas Wood | TEDxIronwoodStatePrison”

  1. Ford sure sounds like a reputable foundation. Oh and the transformation story was nice too, but man that Ford foundation.

  2. I don't think that the question is "why should people who have harmed or killed others be rewarded?" but to ask our self, is the current educational system good and solid? and available to not only the rich and wealthy as well as the poor and minorities? We know as a fact that the answer is NO. A good educational program will be much more effective to prevent incarceration. As far a implementing a educational program for those in jail, will provide them with the opportunity to become good members of our society, to become a positive influence instead of going back to jail. MORE EDUCATION=LESS INCARCERATION! AND A BETTER SOCIETY!

  3. Education causes man to rise from the low levels to the highest ones."For it is possible so to train the individual that, although crime may not be completely done away with, still it will become very rare." – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Writings

  4. #StopTheHate

  5. Uhh, this seems like just more excuses from black people. If white people are so racist, doesn't that motivate you to be more successful? I don't believe this bullshit for one minute.
    Maybe in the 90's you could pawn this shit off and people would believe it, but we live in the Information Age now and we see the real statistics and we see the violence of black people. It's on a whole other level.

  6. After stealing innovations from George Washington Carver..that's the least Ford foundation can do! Thieves

  7. He had me until he said "lets use the resources to build more prisons ".. How about we focus on building upbthe child and figuring out what's wrong with the child and why he's acting out…aka Prevention and Empathy…not isolation and negative reinforcement..

  8. Ok I’m confused! 🙄🙄🙄 are these school teachers? I don’t understand who he’s talkin to and why 🙄🙄🙄🙄💯

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