Three men who are currently serving prison terms for manslaughter beat Harvard’s debate team in a head to head competition. The prison team had already beaten U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. and a nationally ranked team from the University of Vermont. The inmates are being held at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in the Catskills and are part of the Bard Prison Initiative program. The Bard Prison Initiative program, which began in 2001, aims to give liberal-arts educations to talented and motivated inmates.
To say that the inmates shocked the Harvard team may be an understatement. “They caught us off guard,” said Anais Carell, a 20-year-old junior from the Harvard team. Other Harvard members stated that they were impressed by the prisoners. This actually displays the genius on the prisoner’s behalf because they don’t have the luxury of researching like those they debate against. In fact, the prison administration must approve each inmate’s requests for books and articles and they are not allowed to use the internet for research. The inmates had to argue the affirmative on an issue that all of them fundamentally disagreed. Resolved: “Public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students.” “We might not be as naturally rhetorically gifted, but we work really hard.” said Alex Hall, a 31-year-old from Manhattan convicted of manslaughter.
The Bard’s Prison Initiative is shaping up to be a great program for those who are incarcerated. The leaders of the Bard program state that out of more than 300 inmates who have earned degrees while in custody, less than 2% returned to prison within three years. There is no tuition associated with the program and the annual budget is strictly from private donors.