Connect with us

Nonprofits & Activism

The multibillion-dollar US prison industry — and how to dismantle it | Bianca Tylek

Visit to watch more groundbreaking talks from the TED Fellows. A phone call to a US prison or jail can cost up to a dollar per minute — a rate that forces one in three families with incarcerated loved ones into debt. In this searing talk about mass incarceration, criminal justice advocate and TED Fellow…

Published

on

Visit to watch more groundbreaking talks from the TED Fellows.

A phone call to a US prison or jail can cost up to a dollar per minute — a rate that forces one in three families with incarcerated loved ones into debt. In this searing talk about mass incarceration, criminal justice advocate and TED Fellow Bianca Tylek exposes the predatory nature of the billion-dollar prison telecom industry and presents straightforward strategies to dismantle the network of corporations that has a financial interest in seeing more people behind bars for longer periods of time.

The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You’re welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know.

Become a TED Member:
Follow TED on Twitter:
Like TED on Facebook:
Subscribe to our channel:

TED’s videos may be used for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons License, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives (or the CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International) and in accordance with our TED Talks Usage Policy (). For more information on using TED for commercial purposes (e.g. employee learning, in a film or online course), please submit a Media Request at

[SHAPE YOUR FUTURE]

Not too long ago, a mother told me,

“I can talk to my son in the dark.”

[Operator voice: The prepaid
collect call from an inmate at –]

Her son was in prison

and paying for phone calls often meant
she couldn’t afford her light bill.

See, families can pay as much
as a dollar a minute

to speak to a loved one in prison or jail.

These egregious rates

have created a 1.2-billion-dollar
prison telecom industry

and with visit costs

forced one in three families
with an incarcerated loved one into debt.

Eighty-seven percent of those carrying
this financial burden are women.

And as a result of decades
of racist policies and policing,

they’re disproportionately
Black and brown.

Prison telecom corporations claim
that these high rates are necessary

to pay site commissions
to prisons and jails

and provide security and surveillance.

While the government’s hands
are far from clean,

these corporate claims are simply
not supported by reality.

Consider this.

In Connecticut,

where families are charged
as much as 32.5 cents per minute

and the state takes
a 68 percent commission,

the telecom provider
takes home 10 cents per minute.

Now, in Illinois, where the state
takes no commission,

families pay the same corporation
nine tenths of a cent per minute.

In other words, even after
the government takes its cut,

the corporation makes 10 times more
in Connecticut than it does in Illinois

for providing the same service.

And prisons in Illinois are no less secure
than those in Connecticut.

These are simply corporate arguments

used to justify predatory
business practices

and distract from the very simple truth.

Corporations in the prison industry

have a financial interest
in seeing more people behind bars

and for longer periods of time.

In reality, providing families
and their incarcerated loved ones

with regular communication

is not just the right thing to do.

It’s also the most fiscally responsible
and safe thing to do.

If you think taxpayers
shouldn’t be on the hook

for phone calls for people
who have committed crimes,

remember this.

The most expensive rates
are charged in jails

where the majority of people
are awaiting trial and not yet convicted.

Prison wages range from nothing
to a few cents an hour,

so it’s hard working, taxpaying families
that are paying for calls.

And maintaining strong community ties
is one of the most important factors

in a person’s successful
reentry upon release.

It improves housing,
employment and social outcomes,

making it less likely that people
need government support

or end up back in prison.

The bottom line is
that prison telecom corporations,

and the thousands of others
in the prison industry,

prioritize profit as they promote
the caging of people

to exploit them and their families.

See, prison telecom is just one sector
in the 80-billion-dollar prison industry.

When I say prison industry,

I’m talking about food
service corporations

that serve rotten meat
to people behind bars,

health care providers
that deny incarcerated people care,

and architecture firms that design
windowless six-by-nine-foot cells

for solitary confinement,

where people spend weeks,
months and even years.

We invest in these corporations

through our retirement funds,
public pensions,

university endowments
and private foundations,

and we celebrate their executives

on the boards of our favorite
cultural institutions.

And in all fairness,
it’s not just the private sector.

It’s also government agencies
that charge excessive fines and fees

and abuse free or grossly
underpaid prison labor

to manufacture license plates,

staff DMV call centers, fight wildfires

and, yes, even pick cotton.

So this begs the question,

how can we address our crisis
of mass incarceration

if an entire segment of our economy
is fighting to put more people behind bars

and for longer?

We can’t.

But we can demand and create change.

The key is running coordinated
policy and corporate campaigns.

That’s the playbook I put to use
when I founded Worth Rises,

a nonprofit prison abolition organization

dedicated to dismantling
the prison industry.

Let’s go back to prison telecom
for a quick example.

In 2018, we led a campaign
in New York City

that passed the first piece of legislation
to make jail phone calls free,

saving families with
incarcerated loved ones,

nearly 10 million dollars a year

and increasing communication
by roughly 40 percent overnight.

In 2019,

we helped local advocates in San Francisco
introduce a similar policy

and launched several statewide
campaigns to do the same.

That same year,

we fought the consolidation
of two major market players

in front of the Federal Communications
Commission and won.

We blocked 150-million-dollar
investment by a public pension

with a private equity firm
that owned a prison telecom corporation.

And we removed one
of the largest investors in the field

from a major museum board.

In just two years,

we toxified the industry and threatened
its business model,

causing an investor sell-off.

But more importantly,

that means millions of families connected

and billions of dollars protected

from the predatory hands
of prison profiteers.

It means fewer dollars invested in
and promoting human caging and control.

And it means at least one mother
won’t have to sit in the dark

to talk to her son again.

[Operator: You may start
the conversation now.]

Thank you.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
89 Comments

89 Comments

  1. just adam

    June 4, 2021 at 10:19 pm

    Your systems are just insane there is not one aspect of American culture I see as desirable. I believe you have deluded yourselves with greed because you’re government systems are both unfair and unjust written by The entitled 4 The entitled

  2. Amanda McKenna

    June 4, 2021 at 10:49 pm

    DON’T DO THE CRIME IF YOU CAN’T DO THE TIME. Everyone can get a legal side hustle. There are programs for at risk youths. Educate these kids, stop blaming others. Or don’t. We all know who is in prison.

    • Gertrude Laronge

      June 5, 2021 at 12:45 am

      Is that a racist dog whistle I hear?

  3. Sami Naser

    June 4, 2021 at 10:51 pm

    This is A Marica ………money corporation industry? ?????

  4. Dantick09

    June 4, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    Someone out there is counting inmates to see how much he/she is going to get paid…fking monsters

  5. Sid Michael

    June 4, 2021 at 11:06 pm

    She’s hot 🔥

  6. Miguel Suarez-solis

    June 4, 2021 at 11:11 pm

    While I agree with ending private prisons you lost me at the identity politics right at the beginning

  7. Gertrude Laronge

    June 4, 2021 at 11:32 pm

    Thank you for bringing awareness to this injustice.
    I think this is important.
    I would like to help.

  8. Sloan Porter

    June 4, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    I’d rather see more concern for the care of children not some thug that broke the law and has to pay a dollar a minute. Keep the call short!

    • 1sweetpeach

      June 5, 2021 at 12:24 am

      And then there’s the corrupt cash for bail racket. So if you are wrongful accused and lucky enough (white) to be granted bail you can pay for your freedom. If you can’t pay, then you stay. Ppl lose so much money, houses and cars trying to get loved ones out of jail before they are ever proven guilty. That’s wrong. Flat out wrong. It’s not innocent till proven guilty but instead guilty till proven innocent and it’s all for money. Disgusting.

  9. Debbie Clark

    June 5, 2021 at 12:10 am

    For Your Information…..the music industry has stock in the prison system. Thats why the music industry, has bogus and ranchy singers (can’t say music artist, because thier not) like Mega Thee Stallion, Cardi B. Doja Cat, Little Nays, 69 and others singers so they can influence our youth, tear families apart…….all in the hopes to influence the vanurable parts of our society. So they will act out and do what the music industry does….inhopes that they will get arrested and imprisoned…..all so that the music industry will get richer, off of our children and drain us of our money and split up our families.
    WAKE UP PEOPLE….THE MUSIC TODAY, IS CONTROLLING AND BRAINWASHING OUR CHILDREN, ALL FOR A CHEAP BUCK. PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR RAISING YOUR CHILDREN AND NOT THE MUSIC OR TV AND MOVIE INDUSTRY!!!!
    ITS TIME THAT WE TAKE OUR CONTROL AND POWER BACK !!!!!!

  10. thegirlwithribbons

    June 5, 2021 at 12:17 am

    My husband was incarcerated for a year for a crime he did not commit. He was not sentenced and awaiting his case to be resolved. My phone bills to call him cost me $400 a week in California. $50 every two days MINIMUM. It’s what kept him sane in there..

    Now he is home but I understand how corrupt, financially driven the prison/jail system is here. It’s the most racist, economically driven and disturbing part of America only people who have been confronted with the system would know.
    Unfortunately this is what keeps it all in the dark.

    Thank you for this video. More people need to know about the facts of corruption and mistreatment of inmates and families.

  11. Everson Carvalho

    June 5, 2021 at 12:18 am

    How to dismantle it? Don’t be a criminal

    • Gertrude Laronge

      June 5, 2021 at 12:46 am

      Naieve.

  12. Matthew Morycinski

    June 5, 2021 at 12:27 am

    Behind that industry is a bunch of holier-than-thou citizens, who never seriously considered what brings someone to commit a crime.

  13. Kingofmphs

    June 5, 2021 at 12:35 am

    And the Democrats and Republican leaders just keep getting richer.🤦🏼‍♂️

  14. Scott Trosien

    June 5, 2021 at 12:41 am

    Don’t do the crime of you don’t want to do the time. It’s a matter of choice. It’s not society. It’s not “the system”. It’s choice to not do illegal things. I grew up poor to a single mom on footsteps and welfare in Detroit yet i didn’t hang out with those who would influence me to poor behaviors. That was a choice.

    • Gertrude Laronge

      June 5, 2021 at 12:48 am

      You are naieve.

  15. Nigel Murillo

    June 5, 2021 at 12:42 am

    Prisoners are the only exception to the amendment that “banned” slavery.

  16. Ronald Indarto Chin

    June 5, 2021 at 12:44 am

    US Democracy dont work. You guys cant do anything. Its just an illusion, nothing change.

  17. Lane RAA

    June 5, 2021 at 12:51 am

    All prisons should be privatized, and make it mandatory for all prisoners to be armed.

  18. c.f. geyer

    June 5, 2021 at 12:59 am

    Thanks for your enlightening comments, my grandmother used to say that there were more out than in. The prison and jail system are more corrupt than the people they are supposedly protecting us from. Thanks

  19. Mr G

    June 5, 2021 at 1:01 am

    In case I needed any more evidence that America sucks…!

  20. Kris klos

    June 5, 2021 at 1:18 am

    This country has some seriously sick f*ck’s running it.

  21. Kris klos

    June 5, 2021 at 1:19 am

    Thie to break the prisons, HARD!!!!!!!

  22. Lyndon Boucher

    June 5, 2021 at 1:21 am

    Stop breaking the law… the end

  23. Eric Johnson

    June 5, 2021 at 1:24 am

    I was gonna be SO PISSED OFF if you had tried to paint this in any sort of positive light.
    I’m glad you didn’t.
    Slavery never ended. It was never really abolished. It was only given a new mask to hide behind.
    Weed it out and burn it at the roots.

  24. Aini Inayatus sholikhah

    June 5, 2021 at 1:27 am

    gw yg gatau artinya tpi tetep nonton 😭😂

  25. Adventurous One

    June 5, 2021 at 7:33 am

    Give your life to Jesus Christ. Believe and pray:
    *God, I know that I am a sinner and unless you save me I’ll be lost forever. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, died on the cross for my sins and arose on the 3rd day. I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.*

  26. World of ticktalkers

    June 5, 2021 at 8:45 am

    Stuff like this makes me crazy, angry, depressed, rebellious, anti everything

  27. desire toustou

    June 5, 2021 at 9:05 am

    if we spend the money before, fewer people would be thrown in jail.

  28. Tan Xu

    June 5, 2021 at 9:15 am

    Been sentenced to a Chinese prison for two years, which is much worse and corrupted than US’s. No human rights there. The guards take money in every way and treat us like garbages.

  29. James Calbert

    June 5, 2021 at 11:24 am

    The 13th Ammendment, “…abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.” Until we change the notion that all incarceration is, “PUNISHMENT” and therefore justifies slavery, we, as the MOST INCARCERATED NATION IN THE WORLD can only expect more of the same. Only in the rarest of cases should incarceration mean punishment. In most cases rehabilitation is the best approach to reintegrating people into productive members of society.

  30. Eris Socratou

    June 5, 2021 at 11:37 am

    The prisons are an ugly business but people will run away when you mention publicly financed ones because (scary word ahead) *socialism.*

  31. Bloom0to9

    June 5, 2021 at 11:52 am

    Capitalism… Everything is a business.

  32. Rodney Oben

    June 5, 2021 at 12:17 pm

    Beautiful presentation!!

  33. Gustavo Perez

    June 5, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    Nationalize prison healthcare systems

  34. Joseph Raymond

    June 5, 2021 at 12:52 pm

    Yeah,um,300 years of developing a system even older than that isn’t going to go away any time soon.

  35. Necate

    June 5, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    Almost sounds like legal borders are necessary keep businesses in check …
    >Uncle Sam starts shrieking in vampire<

  36. For An Angel

    June 5, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    First we “abolish” slavery (except in cases of incarceration) and then after passing numerous laws that target black and brown people low and behold the prisons start filling up with the descendants of slaves and we still have legal slavery to this day.

  37. larry jervik

    June 5, 2021 at 1:45 pm

    First profit prison is a creation of the false god jehovah the evil men who speak his name are those who invest blindly…for the lord’s work be done and the lords work is greed

  38. -

    June 5, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    Challenge: look at a graph of the US incarceration rate and see if you can figure out when they privatized prisons… ¬_¬

  39. Nate Schultz

    June 5, 2021 at 2:44 pm

    The prison labor system is basically tolerated slavery.

    • Joedy Barnes

      June 5, 2021 at 10:35 pm

      I mean…. the 13th amendment says it is slavery. If you want it change, advocate for a new amendment.

  40. ptorrento

    June 5, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    100% correct – “These are simply corporate arguments, used to justify predatory business practices, and distract from a very simple truth.”

  41. Michael Smallwood

    June 5, 2021 at 4:58 pm

    If we just execute people for violent felonies then we wouldnt need as many prisons.

  42. 楊先生

    June 5, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    Hidden in the circle of the person who presses the message, you can see the playlist collected by his mobile phone and save it if necessary!Vegan

    • 楊先生

      June 6, 2021 at 1:05 am

      @SOPHIA PSYCHIC TAROT You can see the circle that I subscribed nghu脑控犯罪组织受害者 Victims of Medusa System Brain Control

    • 楊先生

      June 6, 2021 at 1:24 am

      @SOPHIA PSYCHIC TAROT Gossip, (wisdom)

    • 楊先生

      June 6, 2021 at 1:33 am

      @SOPHIA PSYCHIC TAROT Thank you (far water can’t save the near fire, microwave weapon abuse, you can see the circle that I subscribed, there are many victims, you can help them), I just want you to know the disaster situation of the Asian victims and share with you Vegan

  43. Cactus Jones

    June 5, 2021 at 8:36 pm

    I’ve worked in a women’s prison and I’ve heard it all before, everything is unfair, the law is wrong, nobody cares, I’m innocent, etc. When confronted with the fact that they put themselves in prison they always shut up. To be absolutely honest, the inmates had more rights than I did as a prison maintenance worker. Bleeding hearts worry about drug addicts, murderers, thieves, sexual predators and NEVER say a thing about the victims. Wake up people, they’re in prison for a reason. Is the prison system perfect? No! Show me one government or state or county or city ran ANYTHING that is perfect. Nothing is perfect, stop complaining because you think it ought to be perfect.

  44. Jonathan

    June 5, 2021 at 9:21 pm

    This will seem more legitimate without the dollar store sound effects

    • SOPHIA PSYCHIC TAROT

      June 5, 2021 at 9:34 pm

      Do not let anyone come in between you and your love, you can actually win their love and make it too deep that the ocean are jealous

    • SOPHIA PSYCHIC TAROT

      June 5, 2021 at 9:34 pm

      I can connect you to someone who helped me attract my ex partner back to me after separation

    • SOPHIA PSYCHIC TAROT

      June 5, 2021 at 9:34 pm

      +1 2 13 2 9 5-1 0 7 3

    • SOPHIA PSYCHIC TAROT

      June 5, 2021 at 9:34 pm

      Message him

  45. Fried Samuel

    June 6, 2021 at 12:16 am

    The fact, is cryptocurrency is making financial waves and fighting against poverty in this modern era, and the question traders ask themselves is, if it is the right time to invest ?
    Before jumping into conclusion i think you should take a good look at things first. For the past few days the price of XRP has been fluctuating which means the market is currently unstable and you can’t tell if it is going to bearish or bullish. While others still continue to trade without the fear of making loss, other are been patient. It all depends on the pattern with which you trade and also the source of your signal. I would say trading has been going smoothly for me, i started with $9,500 and i have accumulated over $89,600 within 2weeks with the trading strategies given to me by Expert Mr Powell His method are top notch and profitable, obviously he’s the best. You can What///sap him

    • Fried Samuel

      June 6, 2021 at 12:17 am

      +//1//8//0//2//4//0//0//5//1//4//1//

    • Ann Lorra

      June 6, 2021 at 12:18 am

      I’ve heard about Mr Powell but was sceptical to invest due to fear and ignorance, anyway can i verify his service ?

    • Fried Samuel

      June 6, 2021 at 12:22 am

      He’s excellent at what he does, tell him i referred you to him. His passionate strategies are top notch 🇱🇷🇱🇷✅✅

  46. Random Videos

    June 6, 2021 at 1:45 am

    So bad 😔

  47. Carl Jeinkins

    June 6, 2021 at 1:58 am

    Just because a demographic of people commit more crimes does NOT mean the laws are racist.

  48. Urban Twilight

    June 6, 2021 at 3:50 am

    Drop the annoying sound fx.

  49. AnAZPatriot

    June 6, 2021 at 5:12 am

    Anyone bother to ask the prisoners which prison they prefer? I know someone did because I remember reading it. Overwhelmingly they prefer private ones…because they are run better and have accountability. Govt. prisons have no accountability.

  50. Cecilia Cole

    June 6, 2021 at 7:02 am

    Abolish!

  51. Kevin Wells

    June 6, 2021 at 7:09 am

    I had two commentary’s I deleted now. Because I’m learning from you, and I can’t help but just agree with you. I only want to you remember that there are some people, in these prisons, that really need to be kept away from society. It is a very, very small number – I would agree to that. But what do you propose we do with them? Meanwhile, I agree these prison profiteers need to be put out of business.

  52. XNova Studios-Education

    June 6, 2021 at 7:35 am

    Wow

  53. Emm N.

    June 6, 2021 at 8:06 am

    “Fighting to put more people behind bars”. That’s misleading…. as if personal responsibility just got thrown out the window. I get the hardship, but I don’t get the ignorance for lack of owning for one’s actions. You have it hard in life? That’s no excuse to commit a crime. NEVER! Not to mention that most crimes have victims who, if questioned, would keep your convicts incarcerated for life for the hardship and pain they’ve created. But those voices don’t matter. Better yet, since Biden want sources of income, there you go, tax those corps.

  54. Him

    June 6, 2021 at 9:03 am

    * mounts onto a prison *

  55. dank

    June 6, 2021 at 10:24 am

    for me, if a person goes into prison, that person lose his/her citizenship and stuff.

  56. kay123nay

    June 6, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    That’s amazing work!

  57. Daniel Chua

    June 6, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    The more I get to know more about USA, the more I see a “USA Inc.” where everything is about profit, and governed by jungle rules, survival of the fittest. Sorry, if you are weak, please just give up and wait to be preyed on.

    The worst is, when you are try speak out your mind against this, the only reaction is USA is no socialist, we don’t do communist in the land of the free.

    Pathetic

  58. Hack-n-Mate

    June 6, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    First min in I’m already calling it BS

  59. Peter didn't pick a pepper. But 2.

    June 6, 2021 at 7:50 pm

    i havnt eveb watch it, but from the comments im not going to. Seriously detressing all this is. and it comming to a life near you. maybe even you

  60. Roshan

    June 6, 2021 at 7:57 pm

    good topic from TED…never thought in that way

  61. Lil bit Supreme

    June 6, 2021 at 11:03 pm

    Awesome content.

  62. Sarah Couture

    June 7, 2021 at 5:36 am

    So evil…so greedy… so hidden in plain sight… so massively misunderstood…

  63. HellYeah

    June 7, 2021 at 10:59 am

    From 1 dollar a minute to free? Did I hear that right?

  64. Kali Renkel

    June 7, 2021 at 2:44 pm

    I wish this was common knowledge.

  65. budearta

    June 8, 2021 at 6:54 am

    Do people forget why we have prisons? Or why people go to prison?

  66. Sophia Mick

    June 8, 2021 at 11:36 am

    My dear i can recommend you to a powerful man who restore my broken heart in 3days with immediate of bringing out results.

  67. Sophia Mick

    June 8, 2021 at 11:37 am

    +2 3 4 9 0 4 1 6 4 0 3 2 0

  68. Matt Stiles

    June 8, 2021 at 3:50 pm

    I got tortured in jail in amarillo tx twice and they have it on camera and they were evil

  69. WokeNFree

    June 8, 2021 at 10:41 pm

    I wonder which public companies are financially invested in the prison system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Nonprofits & Activism

The real-life superheroes helping Syrian refugees | Feras Fayyad

Visit to watch more groundbreaking talks from the TED Fellows. With his films, he’s on a mission to separate the facts about refugees from fiction, as a form of resistance — for himself, his daughter and the millions of other Syrian refugees across the world. A harrowing account, a quest to end injustice and a…

Published

on

Visit to watch more groundbreaking talks from the TED Fellows.

With his films, he’s on a mission to separate the facts about refugees from fiction, as a form of resistance — for himself, his daughter and the millions of other Syrian refugees across the world. A harrowing account, a quest to end injustice and a testament to the power of storytelling.

The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You’re welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know.

Become a TED Member:
Follow TED on Twitter:
Like TED on Facebook:
Subscribe to our channel:

TED’s videos may be used for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons License, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives (or the CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International) and in accordance with our TED Talks Usage Policy (). For more information on using TED for commercial purposes (e.g. employee learning, in a film or online course), please submit a Media Request at

[SHAPE YOUR FUTURE]

Society has a set
of stories it tells itself

about who refugees are
and what they look like.

But let me tell you a different story.

My story.

I’m a filmmaker and a refugee

from a small village in northern Syria.

In our village, growing up,
there was no stable electricity supply.

We spend most of our nights
around gas lanterns

and told stories about Syrian
mythological superbeings

that protected the vulnerable.

I was a boy who loved
the stories of superheroes.

But later on, these stories shifted
to tales of heroes

that my family has to face
under the Assad dictatorship.

One of my uncles was killed under torture.

My father had to burn his books
before they were even published

in order to protect us from the regime.

He burned his dreams along with his books.

These stories must not be forgotten,

my parents insisted.

The stories stopped being a pastime.

It became a form of resistance.

I studied filmmaking
and focused on documentaries.

Documentary filmmaking, you see,
became my way of resistance.

I documented stories of Syrians
who opposed the Assad regime,

in 2011, when the revolution started.

I was arrested, tortured

and sexually assaulted.

When I was released, I left Syria.

I was traumatized

and tried to end my life.

My wife stood by me
and helped me hang onto life.

But as a result, I stopped making films.

Despite my arrest and torture,

I took many risks
in order to see my family.

So a year later, when the Assad regime
lost control of the north of Syria,

I was able to visit my hometown.

There, I met many inspiring Syrians,

real life superheroes
who stayed behind to save lives.

I was captivated by how genuine they were.

Without planning, I took out
my camera and started filming,

I felt inspired.

These real-life superheroes
saved the filmmaker in me.

Khalid was one of the heroes
in my first feature film,

“Last Men in Aleppo.”

Khaled was a simple man
who dreamed to be a firefighter,

but he couldn’t follow his dream.

So he worked as a house painter.

When the war destroyed his city,
he found his calling.

He joined the White Helmets,

a group of Syrian volunteers
who formed a civil defense organization

to rescue civilians
from their bombed homes.

Khalid saved hundreds of lives.

While doing that, he died as a hero.

The second hero is Dr. Amani Ballour,

whose story I told
in my second film, “The Cave.”

It’s a story of an extraordinary woman

who founded an underground
hospital in eastern Ghouta.

She treated injured children,
victims of atrocities,

while bombs fell around them.

As a female scientist,

she defied sexism and patriarchy

to save civilians who suffered two attacks
with chemical weapons.

And then there are the two superheroes
who saved my own life.

Khalil Ma’touq and Anwar al-Bunni.

They are the lawyers who took up my case

and got me out of the most notorious
torture facilities in Damascus.

While Anwar now is in Germany,
fighting for justice for Syrian refugees,

Khalil was arrested in 2012
because of his work.

We don’t know anything about him

because the Syrian regime
continues to deny his arrest,

but his work is not in vain.

It’s for Khalil I faced
my torturer in Germany.

In June 2020 I gave my testimony

at the first trial
on Syrian state of torture

before a German court in Koblenz.

It is for Amani and Khalid

I’m still the filmmaker today.

They inspired me to create
a new cinematic universe of superheroes,

based on their quest to end injustice.

Creating this cinematic universe
has not been an easy journey.

It’s been a brutal struggle

against racism and discrimination
in the film industry,

an industry dominated by people
who think they know how the audience,

how you want a film about Syrians to be,

how you want superheroes
or refugees to look.

But refugees look just like me.

These refugees were superheroes

who defied the status quo and stereotype.

So I will not stop. I owe it to them.

I owe it to my daughter,
the young refugee child.

To tell the stories of superheros

who look just like her.

For her, I will continue to resist.

Thank you.

Continue Reading

Nonprofits & Activism

A feminist reimagining of Kenya’s public transport | Naomi Mwaura

Visit to watch more groundbreaking talks from the TED Fellows. Kenya’s minibuses — known as “matatus” — offer a convenient, affordable and colorful way for people to get around. But they also pose safety risks and accessibility issues for many of their passengers, especially women. Bringing a feminist perspective, activist and TED Fellow Naomi Mwaura…

Published

on

Visit to watch more groundbreaking talks from the TED Fellows.

Kenya’s minibuses — known as “matatus” — offer a convenient, affordable and colorful way for people to get around. But they also pose safety risks and accessibility issues for many of their passengers, especially women. Bringing a feminist perspective, activist and TED Fellow Naomi Mwaura calls for a revolution in public transportation by making routes transparent, protecting passengers from harassment and paving a career path for women in the industry.

The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You’re welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know.

Become a TED Member:
Follow TED on Twitter:
Like TED on Facebook:
Subscribe to our channel:

TED’s videos may be used for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons License, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives (or the CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International) and in accordance with our TED Talks Usage Policy (). For more information on using TED for commercial purposes (e.g. employee learning, in a film or online course), please submit a Media Request at

[SHAPE YOUR FUTURE]

In Kenya, buses are commonly
known as “matatus.”

They’re everywhere —
and I mean everywhere.

And they form a very crucial part
of Kenyans’ urban life.

They’re fun, colorfully painted buses

with graffiti that depicts
what is going on in Kenya

and the world at large.

They’re informal and affordable ways
for Kenyans to get around

and are used by the vast majority
as the main mode of transportation.

But they have a couple of flaws.

They can be a bit too loud,

drive on the wrong side of the road

to avoid traffic

and can be inaccessible for women,
children and people with disabilities.

Back in the 90s, my family
was in the matatu business

and ran a popular graffiti matatu
called “Gridlock’d.”

“Gridlock’d” was an American
black comedy film

starring the popular rapper Tupac Shakur.

My uncles loved Tupac, and as a result,

I can still sing along
to most of his songs.

Seven years ago, I stepped into
the family business,

and I brought a twist with me —
a feminist perspective.

And this is what informs this perspective:

women all over the world face sexual
harassment while using public transport.

In Kenya, 88 percent of women
have experienced harassment

while using public transportation.

Unfortunately, we Kenyans are not alone.

In a 2014 study conducted in the US,

public transportation was
the second-most common place

for street harassment.

This percentage is even higher
in Cairo, Egypt,

where a whopping 95 percent of women
have experienced harassment

while using public transportation.

This percentage ranges all over the world,

but there’s not a single transport system

where women do not face
this type of harassment.

This leads to a massive
financial loss for women,

more commute time as they try
to avoid dangerous routes,

and eventually, they drop out of a system
that isn’t built for them

and doesn’t cater to their travel needs.

So instead of women using affordable

and environmentally sustainable
public transportation

to work, school and social events,

they use their hard-earned
and saved monies

on safer but much more expensive
means of transportation

that leaves them out of building savings
to ensure financial independence.

I cringe when newspaper headlines read,
“Let’s get rid of matatus,”

because millions of commuters
would be stranded

and thousands of youths unemployed.

They say, “The system doesn’t work.
Let’s get rid of it.”

But I say no.

We have a lot to work with,
and we need to put in the work.

For the past seven years,

we’ve worked with over 1,000+
public transport operators,

2,000 transport stakeholders

and over 150 women professionals
in the industry.

The interventions that have yielded great
impact are driven by research findings

and working with public
transport organizations

to change the existing systems.

One way we are doing this
is by offering trainings

on how to improve commuter experience.

For example, it used to be that buses
would unexpectedly change their route

either to avoid traffic

or the police,

and women would find themselves
in totally unknown neighborhoods.

But now, buses are required
to display their route map,

fare charts

and contact details of how and whom
to report any incidences.

We’ve also been actively recruiting
and shining a spotlight

on women professionals
working in the industry

so more women can join.

When more women work in the industry,
they are in positions to make changes.

So we’ve created a community,
and an active network

of women professionals working
in the Nairobi metropolitan area

who meet regularly and attend
professional development courses.

Women who are joining the industry
have a real voice now.

We have a stronger network,

more and more expertise,

and more money is being put into
researching gender-based violence

that plagues women
as they go about their day.

So instead of getting rid of matatus,

let’s understand travel habits.

Let’s train on how to improve
commuter experience.

Let’s change behavior.

Let’s train on and adopt
sexual harassment policies,

and let’s hire a more diverse workforce.

Just like myself and my family,

I believe public transportation can be
the preferred mode of transport

and workplace for millions of Kenyans.

Continue Reading

Nonprofits & Activism

Playful, wondrous public spaces built for community and possibility | Matthew Mazzotta

Visit to watch more groundbreaking talks from the TED Fellows. Introducing a new type of public space, custom-fit for communities in need of a shot of hope and wonder. Artist and TED Fellow Matthew Mazzotta takes us across the US, sharing delightful projects that refresh space and place, spark collective conversation and reignite a sense…

Published

on

Visit to watch more groundbreaking talks from the TED Fellows.

Introducing a new type of public space, custom-fit for communities in need of a shot of hope and wonder. Artist and TED Fellow Matthew Mazzotta takes us across the US, sharing delightful projects that refresh space and place, spark collective conversation and reignite a sense of possibility and purpose in their surroundings.

The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You’re welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know.

Become a TED Member:
Follow TED on Twitter:
Like TED on Facebook:
Subscribe to our channel:

TED’s videos may be used for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons License, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives (or the CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International) and in accordance with our TED Talks Usage Policy (). For more information on using TED for commercial purposes (e.g. employee learning, in a film or online course), please submit a Media Request at

[SHAPE YOUR FUTURE]

For me, public space is political.

I work with communities around the world,

and as we know,
every community has problems.

Some of these problems are solved
through the ballot box

or city hall meetings

or community efforts, like bike lanes
and potholes and school budgets.

But some problems are beyond
the reach of these structures,

like food deserts,

community well-being

and the loss of cultural identity.

These problems cannot be solved
with the existing tool sets.

I believe that public space is the most
potent place to discuss these issues,

because it contains the richest
diversity of perspectives.

And that’s what makes it so powerful.

The existing parks, town squares
and sidewalks are not enough, though,

which is why I’m interested in creating
a new type of public space,

one that’s built by the community
and designed specifically for their needs.

I start by listening

and by setting up
actual outdoor living rooms,

complete with couches, tables,
chairs, rugs and lamps,

as a way of holding meetings
to learn about the issues

directly from the community.

I use this technique to capture
the voices and ideas of people

that might not have time or feel
comfortable in more formal meetings.

So why get someone to sit in a love seat
in the middle of the street?

In York, Alabama,
the residents bear witness

to the abandoned houses
that cover the town,

which are a constant reminder
of the white flight that took place

after segregation ended,

when white homeowners left the area
and let their houses fall into disrepair.

Teaming up with the people of York,

we transformed an iconic, pink-sided,
blighted property in the middle of town

into a new house, called “Open House.”

However, this house has a secret.

It physically transforms into a 100-seat
open-air theater for plays, movies, music

or whatever the community
would like to experience.

And when it folds back up
into the shape of a house,

the image of the reclaimed pink siding
reminds people of the past.

After its opening, the mayor saw
the potential in Open House

and held the next town hall meeting there.

The excitement of this unique
gathering space brought new energy

and gave a fresh viewpoint to collectively
discuss the future of the town.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts,

to highlight the issues of energy,
waste and climate change,

we replaced a garbage can in a park
with an anaerobic digester

to transform dog waste
into usable methane gas.

Burning this methane lights the park

and reduces greenhouse gases.

By slightly changing an everyday
experience in public space,

the Park Spark Project
provokes neighbors to have conversations

about the natural and built
systems around them

and their connection to the environment.

In Lyons, Nebraska, residents
spoke about the loss of social life

as downtown storefronts began
to shutter their doors,

a result of the slow violence
of disinvestment,

which has left many rural downtowns empty.

To address this loss of human connection,

we used an abandoned storefront
to turn Main Street into a movie theater.

The storefront wall is modified
with hydraulics

so that the awning and false front
fold down over the sidewalk

with the push of a button,

providing seating for 100.

As the community came together
to build a storefront theater,

an eccentric postman who makes
sci-fi movies starring his cat

proposed to make a documentary
for the debut.

And so that summer, we turned
downtown into a movie set

and the townspeople into actors

to create the movie “Decades,”
a history of Lyons downtown

from its founding to the present moment.

On opening night, the main street,

which is usually empty after dark,

filled with people to watch
the story of their town,

leaving locals to question:

How will we write
the next chapter of Lyons?

Well, the next chapter started
with a series of movie screenings,

public events and international musicians,

as well as a low-budget film community
that has blossomed in Lyons,

bringing in people from all over the world

and a permanent art gallery
that has opened next door.

My work harnesses the power
of the built environment

to focus on issues that communities
and local governments

have failed to address themselves,

by creating projects so custom fit

that the community naturally
makes it their own.

When people from all walks of life
have a shared experience in these spaces,

it can lead to a paradigm shift
in how we see our home,

our community and the world.

For me, public space is political

and becomes powerful when it sparks
people’s imagination to envision

a new future.

And although every place
I’ve worked is unique,

it all boils down to one thing:

if people can sit together,
they can dream together.

Thank you.

Continue Reading

Trending