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New York Prison Inmates Defeat Prestigious Harvard Debate Team

Prisoners participating in Bard College initiative to provide them a liberal arts education beat Ivy League students who won national title only months ago

Carl Snyder, a prison inmate and member of the Bard Prison Initiative Debate team, speaks during a debate against Harvard College Debating Union. PHOTO: PETER FOLEY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

151007073005-eastern-new-york-correctional-facility-exlarge-169NAPANOCH, N.Y.– Inmates from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in the Catskills, defeated the prestigious Harvard debate team in mid-September as part of the Bard Prison Initiative, a program run by Bard College to provide college education to qualifying prisoners, according to the Wall Street Journal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the debate team with which was comprised of three inmates from a maximum-security prison, was associated with part of a program called the Bard Prison Initiative, which seeks to help give inmates a chance for a better life outside of prison and also gives these men and women an opportunity for a college education.

As part of that program, a debate team was formed, and the Harvard team was surprised by their impressive oratory. “They caught us off guard,” said Anais Carell, a 20-year-old junior from Chicago.

Interestingly, the inmates won the debate by arguing a side that they normally would heavily disagree with: “Public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students.”

After the debate, Carlos Polanco, told the Wall Street Journal that he would never want to keep a child from attending school but that he was grateful for his chance to attend Bard College in prison. “We have been graced with opportunity,” said the 31-year-old from Queens in prison for manslaughter. “They make us believe in ourselves.”

The Harvard Club took the loss gracefully.

“Three members of the HCDU had the privilege of competing against members of the Bard Prison Initiative’s debate program,” the group posted on its Facebook page. “There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend, and we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event.”

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 Bard Prison Initiative, begun in 2001, aims to give liberal-arts educations to talented, motivated inmates. Program officials say about 10 inmates apply for every spot, through written essays and interviews

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About AJ Woodson (2375 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.
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