You wanna wug?

A wug! Today, our TEDx team coined the term that describes what we do in prison to show connection, appreciation and love. What’s wug you ask? A word-hug!!

Explanation: Hugs are not allowed in prison. It’s not always the easiest thing to accept when we connect deeply and humanly with one another. And yet, this rule has its reasons for existing.

So, most of the time, we “hug” by hugging ourselves. We “hug” by placing our hands on our hearts. We “hug” by saying things like “consider yourself hugged.” And we talk about the day we will give each other hugs, which translates to the day the Donovan men walk the streets again.

But no actual hugs, with arms and heart-to-heart contact, as long as the men are dressed in blue. Over the past year, the TEDx team has developed a hug replacement, and today it was coined… a wug.

To receive a wug, a person stands inside our circle to be acknowledged by everyone else with a single descriptive word. The person is wrapped in an energetic hug of appreciative and loving words that shine the person’s inner brilliance. Its power is tremendous as each person is authentically seen and honored. And it’s often quite overwhelming to receive the truth that is reflected to us.

As long as we cannot hug, we embrace the power of a wug!

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(Drawing by friend Leah Pearlman from Dharma Comics)

Impact of TEDx attendees on inside team

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Here is a collection of comments the Donovan men made last Tuesday about the impact YOU – outside attendees – had on them during Sunday’s TEDxDonovanCorrectional:

  • The gravity of the situation hasn’t set in yet
  • I imagined us as one big family, living in a mansion together and coming down for breakfast
  • I’ve been exposed to so much love, compassion, and understanding that I’m transformed
  • [The day] was good — I don’t have any fancy words — it was good (from a man who speaks poetry)
  • [Outside attendees] brought light to my life
  • What I got out of [the day] was love
  • Seeing [everyone] being vulnerable and coming out of their cocoon. There is an essence of unity. I’m still stuck on that
  • We are part of a legacy. I’m just so happy to be part of it
  • I sat with two ladies in TEDxpression. They had me laughing. There was so much laughter, bubbliness. This was a whole new experience that just blew my mind. They were good people. I’ve NEVER experienced anything like that EVER — not at a wedding, not at a party
  • Some things you can’t describe in words because it takes away from it. Words would only lessen what I want to say.  There are no words to share what I’m trying to say. It’s indescribable
  • I enjoyed people just being people
  • It’s about being humble and respectful. One thing I deeply cherish is being humbled
  • It was the most powerful, spiritually uplifting thing I’ve ever experienced. I will take it to the grave

First appreciations after Sunday’s TEDx

TEDxDonCorr-previews-7For 2.5 hours on Tuesday, we had the pleasure and honor of listening to the TEDx Core Team and Speakers team, their wisdom, insights and pure joy created during Sunday’s TEDxDonovanCorrectional. Over the next few days, we’ll release segments of the 13 pages of typed notes that were captured by three volunteers . Here’s the first…

“I’m spiritually full, spiritually high. I don’t know what the [heck] happened to me. I can’t put it into words, but I’m full. I don’t have a burden. [TEDxDonovanCorrectional] took away my burdens. I’m happy. All the new friends I made in [by being part of the Core Team]. How we problem solved together. I take the language we use here – and the tone – and I use it with my family. No blowing up when things don’t go the way I want. I’m just giving them love and respect for humanity. An awakening of humanity towards other people. It’s not about anything you can give, it’s about seeing that humanity. I found soft compassionate parts of myself that were covered up because I wanted to be hard. It’s like you [outside folks] cracked open an egg. And inside, it’s not soft, it’s strong. If we all do this for each other more and more, we will be a better person to everybody around us. When you let your guard down and be the real you, people gravitate to you. I had a woman tell me [on Sunday] that I had a great smile and nice eyes. [The attendees] treated me like I was somebody. There was such kindness. They don’t care what my crime was, they just see me as a human. They wished I wasn’t incarcerated. I can have more of that! After having the courts telling me that I deserve to be locked up — it means the world to me to hear this. I’ll remember those women 20 years from now. So much kindness. I’m not used to it. Race didn’t matter, my crime didn’t matter. It was just about peace, humility, kindness, compassion.”

TEDx planning viewed by inmate Mike Jaquith

Meet Mike Jaquith, a TEDxDonovanCorrectional Core Team member! Below, he shares his experience of organizing TEDxDonovanCorrectional in his own words!

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“First off, I would like to give a quick introduction about myself: I’ve been incarcerated for five years. It has not always been the easiest being isolated, away from my family and friends, and put in a place with people who have different personalities and attitudes, which can create even more isolation. I understand that my wrongdoing put me here, and I take full responsibility for those actions. Since being incarcerated, I’ve made a choice. That choice is change – and I’ve been working hard at it! I was the first to complete a vocational training in Heating & Air Conditioning and also received a 3.8 GPA at Southwestern Community College. Yet, none of those tops what I receive here at TEDx.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived, and I’m so happy I came because the TEDx journey has been nothing less than life-transforming. Meeting twice a week, we work our tails off on all the logistics needed for this event. Beyond this, it’s a place of love and respect for one another where we receive critical tools for life, where we can put our guard down, and where we come together as a “TEDx family” to help each other reach our fullest potential and, most importantly, be ourselves.

“I’m truly honored to be a part of an organization that is for the greater good of humanity as a whole. I’m writing this message in the hopes for change, or simply to help others realize to continue on with the better fight for our collective wellbeing. For those reading this right now, I cannot express enough the impact participating in TEDx has had on me. I highly recommend you experience this for yourselves, in the hope you feel the same impact I have.”

A magical human transformation

As mentioned in my two-years-in-prison anniversary post, I’m amazed at the transformation possible when we create a safe space in which the men cultivate their brilliance, those gifts that make them truly unique.

Here’s one such magical transformation…

When last February David first became part of the Core Team organizing the first TEDxDonovanCorrectional, he was a very broken human being: unexpressive and completely hidden. Here’s this kid, hidden behind his sunglasses, hair in front of his face down to his chest and with his guitar as a permanent crutch. No one saw his eyes for our first three months together. He would barely participate in conversations, not engage in the decisions. He sat there, holding his guitar.

Instead of writing him off, we showed David – like all the men – unconditional love. We first met him where he was at and honored and celebrated even the minuscule ways he could show up, like strumming his guitar as we planned the TEDx event. We gave him a safe space where he was allowed to be himself – something that he may have never received before. Little by little over the summer, we saw him open up.

He dropped his guitar, and then his glasses and then cut his hair. But it did not stop there. Today, David is unrecognizable. He now is in almost constant eye contact, speaks up in our meetings, constructs well articulately arguments for his opinion and we’ve even discovered a phenomenal writer who wrote the intricate theme description of the next TEDx event. Just a couple weeks ago, we identified, from 45 applications, 18 Donovan residents we invited to interview, from which the inside Core Team selected 10 speakers-in-training for next March’s TEDx event. David was not only selected to be one of the 10 speakers-in-training; he received the highest score of all interviewees!!!!

This success from a man who a few months ago stayed hidden and voiceless!

* All names changed.