Once an up-and-coming star in the Missouri State Senate, Jeff Smith went to prison for covering up an election law violation. Since his release, he's created a new space for himself as a professor, writer, political commentator and advocate for those he was locked up with.

Why you should listen

In 2004, Jeff Smith ran for the U.S. Congressional seat vacated by Dick Gephardt, and came this close to defeating Republican Russ Carnahan. His inspiring, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign was documented in the award-winning documentary, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?

A year later, Smith ran for the Missouri State Senate and won in a hotly contested election. He quickly became a rising star in the legislative body, focusing on education reform and tax credits among other things. However, in 2009, the FBI opened a criminal investigation into whether Smith had lied about a violation in his 2004 campaign. He ultimately plead guilty and spent a year in jail. It’s a story he has told on This American Life

Since being released from prison, Smith accepted a position as an assistant professor at The New School's Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy in New York City. His research focuses on political campaigns, the role of race in urban politics and the legislative process. At the same time, he writes for The Recovering Politician, City & State NY and Politico's The Arena, and is working on an memoir. 

Jeff Smith’s TED talks

Jeff Smith on the TED Blog

Business

Jeff Smith: The rest of his political incarceration story

December 5, 2012

Jeff Smith was blown away by some of the brilliant business ideas he heard while spending 366 days in prison between 2009 and 2010. “[Prison] was teeming with smart, ambitious men whose business instincts were in many cases as sharp as those of the CEOs who had wined and dined me six months earlier when […]

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Quotes from Jeff Smith

[We need] to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit and the tremendous untapped potential in our prisons.
Jeff Smith
TED@New York • 997K views Dec 2012
Informative, Persuasive
Prisoners learn how to make do with less, and many of them want to take this ingenuity that they've learned to the outside … but there's no training, nothing to prepare them for that.
Jeff Smith
TED@New York • 997K views Dec 2012
Informative, Persuasive