Dean Ella Turenne speaks at TEDx Occidental College about incarceration and the right to higher education. America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world -- over 2.3 million people are locked behind bars on a daily basis. While we are content to spend billions of dollars incarcerating men and women, we neglect the fact that many of them will come home with little to no resources to assist them in contributing positively to our society. Every person who is incarcerated should have access to quality higher education if they desire it, and this would benefit them and the communities they live in. There is a great deal of national public conversation about access to higher education for underserved communities, but this rarely includes incarcerated people, who are some of the most underrepresented people in the country.
Ella Turenne is an artist, activist and educator. Currently, she is Assistant Dean for Community Engagement at Occidental College. At Occidental, she works with students, faculty, staff and community partners to engage in social justice projects in Los Angeles. Ella's work has been published in various anthologies including Letters from Young Activists: Today's Rebels Speak Out, Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets and Emcees (nominated for a 2007 NAACP Image Award) and Woman's Work: The Short Stories and most recently in "Turning Teaching Inside Out." She is the editor of a volume of visual art and poetry commemorating the Haitian revolution entitled "revolution|revolisyon|révolution 1804-2004: An Artistic Commemoration of the Haitian Revolution." Ella is also a filmmaker whose work has been an official selection of various national film festivals including the Hollywood Black Film Festival and the Montréal International Haitian Film Festival, where her short film "woodshed" was nominated for Best Short Film. In response to the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Ella co-edited a volume of poetry on Haiti called "For the Crowns of Your Heads;" the funds raised were used to aid a library that was destroyed in Port-au-Prince. As an activist, she is on the Executive Steering Committee of the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program and an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She was also a member of the Blackout Arts Collective where she participated in Lyrics on Lockdown, a national tour where she performed and facilitated workshops educating communities about the prison-industrial complex. She was also co-founder of SistaPAC Productions, whose mission is to develop original creative works from women of color.