Three Harvard debate team members faced off against three men incarcerated for violent crimes. This was two weeks ago.
After an hour of fast-moving debate on Friday, the judges rendered their verdict.The inmates won.
The audience burst into applause. That included about 75 of the prisoners’ fellow students at the Bard Prison Initiative, which offers a rigorous college experience to men at Eastern New York Correctional Facility, in the Catskills.
The prison debate squad v. Harvard debate team was set up to show off Bard College’s prison initiative. Pretty successful exhibition.
The prison team had its first debate in spring 2014, beating the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Then, it won against a nationally ranked team from the University of Vermont, and in April lost a rematch against West Point.Preparing has its challenges. Inmates can’t use the Internet for research. The prison administration must approve requests for books and articles, which can take weeks.
The team they beat said they were caught off guard by how prepared the inmates were. These are men serving time for manslaughter. Our perceptions of their capabilities can be pretty condescending. Judge Mary Nugent led the debate panel.
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If I had 24/7 to read books and study like prisoners do, I could beat Harvard’s debate team, as well. Prisoners don’t have sh!t else to do!
Many prisoners are geniuses. They just never had the opportunity to develop themselves or know their capabilities until they entered prison. Sad but true.