John Wetzel- PA Secretary of Corrections

“We’re at a tipping point in our country where we’re really reexamine how we use incarceration. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the country. I mean literally, all over the world in the past 4 years looking at corrections and I think that when you talk about a lifer or you talk about an inmate, and it’s this inanimate object, it’s this concept that doesn’t have a face, it’s really easy to make bad policy. So I felt like it was important to add the voice and the face and the humanness of offenders to a narrative.”

“This past year we held literally the first TED event ever inside a female prison at Muncy. There was a TED talk done there by a young lady, a believe her name is Tamika Flowers, that is easily the best TED talk I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s just amazing, and I believe that at some point, it will go viral. But it was literally the first ever in the history of TED inside a female prison. And we have people from TED New York there. Piper Kerman from Orange is the New Black was there. It was a very different event from the TED event at Graterford, very different feel. It’s like you have two kids, ones not better than the other, it’s just different. Just very very different and very impactful. We’re planning a third one right now that’s going to be very different from the first two. I’ve gotten generally good reactions.

Every time you’re gonna have people say, “Lock them up, throw away the key, lock them up forever.” and that’s 10%. Then you have the 10% that say, “Let everybody out.” I think they’re both full of it to tell you the truth. You know, we’re targeting the 80% in the middle who are people who want more information, who want to understand an issue, that information should be out there. If we’re going to lock people up for the rest of their life, we should hear from them. We should hear their story, hear how they got there. And maybe nothing they said will impact their future, maybe we have lifers who talk about the struggle growing up and these horrendous circumstances and many people have said to me, “This person being in prison for life is a logical consequence of what they went through.” With all of that being said, they may never get out. They may die in prison. My hope is that it makes us think when we pass laws that lock more people up, I really hope that we look broader than criminal justice policy and we look at how we fund, how we structure schools, look at economical opportunities in our most disadvantaged communities. And I hope the communities themselves look at the break up of their family. Look at the break up of their community. Look at how our faith communities aren’t as strong as they used to be. Whatever the tradition is and understand that there is no silver bullet. It’s not the system, it’s all of us. So do all of us care enough that we get educated and understand what led us here. But more importantly, do we have the courage to do what it takes to get us out of here and give opportunities for our kids, especially our most disadvantaged kids. We have a moral obligation to do that. “

John Wetzel- PA Secretary of Corrections

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