The inmates had to argue in favor of public schools being allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students – a position with which they “fiercely disagreed”, according to the Wall Street Journal. 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.
“We are all human”, said Judge Mary Nugent.
“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. “But we know extraordinary talent can be found in the most unconventional places”.
At the match, the inmates, who also have beaten teams from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont, and the Harvard team debated whether public schools can refuse to admit students whose parents entered the country illegally.
Ms. Nugent said the Harvard College Debating Union didn’t respond to parts of that argument, though both sides did an excellent job.
The inmates, who were quick to establish after their victory that they would never want to bar a child from school, were not allowed to use the internet to study for the debate, but were able to come up with arguments that the Harvard team had not considered.
In a debate between Harvard College students and those from any other college, a few might guess that the students would win. “They are not condescended to by their faculty”. The Harvard debating team said they are proud to have lost the debate to the intelligent men incarcerated at the maximum security prison. The initiative aimed to arm its students of skills and education in order to successfully seek employment by the time they go out of prison.
The contest – which was held at Eastern New York Correctional Facility in upstate Napanoch – pitted three inmates against three students from the ivy league school. And the inmates won.
“We might not be as naturally rhetorically gifted, but we work really hard”, Alex Hall, a 31-year-old serving time for a manslaughter conviction, told the Wall Street Journal.