Incarcerated Youth Speaking Out for Change originated in Memphis, Tenn., in the spring of 2015 following a workshop led by BRIDGES facilitators Mahal Burr and Evan Morrison. In that session, youth detainees at Shelby County's Jail East articulated what they saw as the root causes and systemic problems underlying youth violence and recidivism. As Chief Jailer Robert Moore observed the workshop and listened (under the condition of silence—all officers and guards were asked not to speak) to the young men's experiences and ideas, he was moved to initiate a pilot program to deepen their insights and equip them with tools to deliver their powerful message to others, ultimately helping to prevent other youth from ending up in jail.
The young men chosen for the pilot program received training in leadership, restorative justice, systemic oppression and public speaking. By the end of these workshops, they had crafted a collective message into a letter (seen at left) and presentation that articulated six change models they wished to see implemented within schools, city government and the jail system. In addition, the group took on the name “Incarcerated Youth Speaking Out for Change.”
Since September 2015, IYSOC, with full support of the Sheriff’s Office, has delivered presentations for audiences that included judges, school board members, school principals, law enforcement officers, city representatives and Sheriff’s Office staff, as well as high school students. Shelby County Schools approached IYSOC to take their message to all its district's middle schools beginning in January 2016, and that same month, the young men presented their ideas in front of an audience of 400+ at BRIDGES Youth Ignite Memphis, a citywide competition facilitating youth-led social change.