Prisoners defeated Harvard students in a rhetoric contest

Prisoners defeated Harvard students in a rhetoric contest
Carl Snyder, a prison inmate and member of the Bard Prison Initiative Debate team, speaks during a debate against Harvard College Debating Union. Photo by Peter Foley for the Wall Street Journal

Prison can prevent people from living their lives, even if some prisoners have committed violent crimes.


Three Harvard students took part in a rhetoric contest and were defeated by three prisoners in a New York's jail. The three prisoners have been convicted of violent crimes. That's the proof that prison is not the end of their lives.

These prisoners participate in Bard Prison Initiative, an initiative for prisoners who want to take college-level education in prison. According to BPI, the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) creates the opportunity for incarcerated men and women to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentences. The academic standards and workload are rigorous, based on an unusual mix of attention to developmental skills and ambitious college study. The rate of post-release employment among the program’s participants is high and recidivism is stunningly low. By challenging incarcerated men and women with a liberal education, BPI works to redefine the relationship between educational opportunity and criminal justice.

The prison "Eastern New York Correctional Facility" does not allow prisoners to use the Internet, so the three inmates couldn't prepare themselves for the contest by getting information online. However, their opponents from Harvard claimed that the three prisoners were extremely well prepared.

According to WSJ, The debaters on both sides aimed to highlight the academic power of a program, part of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., that seeks to give a second chance to inmates hoping to build a better life.

Ironically, the inmates had to promote an argument with which they fiercely disagreed. Resolved: “Public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students.”

The contest's referee, Mary Nugent, also endorsed the prisoners' team. "Their academic skills are really impressive", she said. "Someone can easily assume that a criminal is worthless. This team from New York proved that everyone who assumes this is mistaken", she added.

31 year-old Carlos Polanco, who has been convicted of murder, said that it was a big chance for him and the other two prisoners: "We began believing in ourselves again", he said.

The team took part in a debate in 2014 for the first time, in West Point of New York. They then won the American Military Academy's team.

Prisoners defeated Harvard students in a rhetoric contest

After reading this, you may want to watch Ring of Fire's video-commentary on criminal justice reform and the wrongfully accused:

Prisoners defeated Harvard students in a rhetoric contest Prisoners defeated Harvard students in a rhetoric contest Reviewed by Katerina Pap on 1:46 PM Rating: 5

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