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Debaters from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility defeated debaters from Harvard University, proving that some of our nation’s greatest human minds are behind bars.


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According to the Wall Street Journal, the three men, all incarcerated for violent crimes, are enrolled in the Bard Prison Initiative, a program extension of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.

The debate took place at the maximum security prison and the crowd was filled with fellow students who burst into applause when the judges announced their decision.

Read more from 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.”

Carlos Polanco, a 31-year-old from Queens in prison for manslaughter, said after the debate that he would never want to bar a child from school and he felt forever grateful he could pursue a Bard diploma. “We have been graced with opportunity,” he said. “They make us believe in ourselves.”

Judge Mary Nugent, leading a veteran panel, said the Bard team made a strong case that the schools attended by many undocumented children were failing so badly that students were simply being warehoused. The team proposed that if “dropout factories” with overcrowded classrooms and insufficient funding could deny these children admission, then nonprofits and wealthier schools would step in and teach them better.

Ms. Nugent said the Harvard College Debating Union didn’t respond to parts of that argument, though both sides did an excellent job.

According to the WSJ, in the Bard team’s first debate in 2014, they defeated the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y

“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 inmate are not allowed to use the internet to prepare. They have to rely solely on books that can take weeks to become available in the prison’s library.

Nugent shot down speculation that the the team won out of political correctness or sympathy.

“We’re all human,” she said. “I don’t think we can ever judge devoid of context or where we are, but the idea they would win out of sympathy is playing into pretty misguided ideas about inmates. Their academic ability is impressive.”

Congrats, Scholars!

Prison Debate Team Trounces Harvard Debate Team In Highly Anticipated Match-Up  was originally published on