What if when a crime was committed, we no longer saw it as a reason to tear a person down and lock them up like animals. What if instead, we saw that it was an opportunity sent from the universe, as a chance to help someone better themselves.
What if instead of ruining peoples lives for mistakes they made, we lifted them up and promoted their well-being and personal development.
Very elegantly, he captivated his audience by beginning his story with one of the most prominent memories he has of spending a year in federal prison. He talks about how he recognized almost every aspect of "acceptable" business, happening within the walls of the prison, the only obvious difference being that it was all very illegal.
He noted that many of the long term inmates talked about subjects you might hear MBA grads discussing. Things like "territory acquisition," "product testing" and "merchandise."
The inmates had everything set up to run as smooth as possible. Improvised barber shops, tattoo parlors, supply shops and exotic pharmaceutical stores were all over the prison in their own ways, with men that ran them as well as any big business tycoon on the outside.
Nearing the end of his TED talk, Jeff brought on his point. He started to talk about the possibilities that could be available if there was education available for inmates like the ones he cohabitated with for over a year.
Right now, there is very little support for any of them. Should they even make it out without being severely institutionalized, they certainly wouldn't have anyone there to lend them a hand and teach them how to turn their intuitive business abilities into skills and knowledge that could help them become sustainable and upstanding citizens.
I whole-heartedly agree with Jeff on that point, we certainly should show more support for inmates in our prisons. Though I want to take that a step further, as there truly are more opportunities available than the inspirational options from Jeff Smith.
His idea is a golden nugget, though when you step back from his vision, you can see that there are certainly many more people in our society who could use similar types of assistance.
What about others in our prisons, who might not have that natural instinct for business operations and development. What about those that spread the word, the marketers of our "grey markets," or maybe a better term would be the "under-economy."
The part of our economy where services and products are sold between companions who would never say a word to Uncle Sam. It's not just in the prisons where these places exist.
There are people across the globe who run businesses under the table. It happens for many reasons. Some of them cannot find any other type of work, but are not confident that they could truly run a full on business.
Others don't want to pay taxes because their business doesn't make a lot. And still others are anarchists by choice, who prefer as much freedom as possible, in the ways in which they run their businesses.
In this "under-economy" there are as many businesses as you can image, just as within prisons. Basically, for every "main-economy" business there is, there will be at least one "under-economy" doppleganger. As said above, this happens for many strange, logical and outrageous reasons. And it probably isn't ever going to completely go away - some people just like existing in the grey zone.
Though most of those "under-economy" businesses, both inside and outside of prison (or on their way there), do wish to be added to the lists of legal, licensed and successful businesses in the main-economy. And many of the people running these businesses, have earned their experience in their fields. Many of them know as much as, and sometimes more than people who have spent years studying in school. Neither education outweighing the other in real world transactions.
Knowing what we know now, it's impossible to miss the opportunities available to Seattle business owners, entrepreneurs and educators. We have camps of homeless individuals floating around the city.
We have youth-shelters overflowing with young minds that simply need a direction to follow. And we have prisons full of people who would follow better paths if they only knew that they already have what it takes to succeed in acceptable ways.
With such a large need, it's up to all of us to band together and start opening up our brains for others to pick. Free workshops for youths, maybe some seminars for interested inmates or even startup coaching for homeless groups.
Take these ideas as a start and add to them, make them your own and reach out with them. You won't regret that you did.