My wife, Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, and I are in the same business: starting conversations. I created Six-Word Memoirs as a simple way for anyone and everyone to express themselves. When anyone shares six words—on SixWordMemoirs.com, in a classroom, at speed-dating event or To Write Love on Her Arms meetups—what often happens next is someone else responds with three more words: “Tell me more.” Piper wrote her book in hopes that her story, and those of the women she served time with, would spark conversations about the U.S. criminal justice system and lead many people to also want to explore this issue more deeply.
I love those moments when our work intersects. Such was the case at a recent TEDx event at Marion Correctional Institution, a men’s medium security prison in Marion, Ohio, bringing together speakers from both inside and outside the prison walls, including members of the administration, to talk about the theme “Refolding The Box?”
TEDxMarionCorrectional was the first TEDx held inside an adult male prison. It’s since held three events at Marion Correctional, each co-curated by inmates. Speakers included inmates, correctional officers, and local community members who have worked with the prison population. The audience is a 50-50 mix of the prison population and outsiders, sitting side by side, while the program is streamed throughout the prison so the entire inmate population can also watch. Uniquely for a TEDx event, the day ends with the assembled broken up into random groups allowing for discussion about what they’ve just heard or anything on anyone’s mind. Piper herself gave a talk at a previous TEDxMarionCorrectional in 2013.
She was so inspired by what she saw and heard that day that she returned to Marion a number of times to talk to the men about writing, leaving behind a few Six-Word Memoirs books after one visit. Many of the men found the six-word format was a helpful writing prompt to start telling their stories. Make no mistake: these stories are often about horrific acts of violence. Yet the simple act of storytelling can be an important step, among many steps, to comes to terms with one’s actions and hopefully take a path toward rehabilitation and even redemption.
And so it came to be that TEDxMarionCorrectional 2014 featured a number of Six-Word Memoirs. Between poised and powerful talks such as “Unpack Your Bags,” Rusty Tarbet’s (pictured, top) deeply personal take on the importance of sharing your story, and “A Mother’s Story,” Lee Seibenick-Schwartz’s (pictured, right) gut-wrenching account of why she encouraged her son to turn himself in,” Six-Word Memoirs appeared as animated, interstitial content. Here are a few:
“Bold introvert who hides on stage.” —Dan Royston
“Spiritual leader who likes Grumpy Cat.” —Chaplin Tim Smith
“Wanted mohawk, got a bald spot.” —Clifford Dale Rose, Jr.
“Progressive, I’ve come a long way.” —Deonta Bell
“Finding sunrise reflected in your eyes.” —Adam Wetterhan
“Freer, fairer, and less corrupt, please.” —Iggy
“Proper education always corrects errors emphatically.” —Demale Rogers-Bey
“I’m knee deep in the hoopla.” —Lee Seibenick-Schwartz
“Why doesn’t anyone else smell that?” —Rusty Tarbet
Special thanks to Jo Dee Davis, director of the WinWin For Responsible and Restorative Environments, and her daughter, Tessa Marie Potts, who took all photographs seen above.