Prisoners Defeat Harvard Students in Debate


Photo: Makenna Millham

Daniel Konstantino, Staff Writer

Students at Miramonte are constantly over-worked, grades are constantly overvalued, and the bigger picture is constantly overlooked. However, every so often something comes along that puts everything back in perspective. Recently, a trio of inmates at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility did just that.

Last month, the prisoners, indicted for violent crimes, beat Harvard students. No, it wasn’t in a relapse of their criminal behavior, but a demonstration of the criminals’ mental capacity and rehabilitation. The prisoners beat the Harvard debate team in a formal debate held at the maximum security prison. It proved an extra sweet outcome because the Harvard team is the defending national collegiate champion.

The event was made possible by the Bard Prison Initiative program, which aims at redefining the lines between criminal justice and educational opportunities. The program allows incarcerated criminals to earn a degree from New York’s Bard College while they are serving their sentence.

It is a form of rehabilitation that has been proven to be successful in limiting recidivism (relapse into their past unlawful behavior) and boosting the employment rate of ex-cons. Incarcerated debate member Carlos Polano expressed his gratitude towards the program in a Wall Street Journal interview. “We have been graced with opportunity,” he said. “They make us believe in ourselves.”

The losing side also articulated thankfulness to the program over a post on Facebook. “There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend,” the champion Harvard students wrote on their page, “and we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event.”

Phenomenally intelligent and articulate, too, Miramonte students are highly competitive when discussing college. Most students spend four years with one goal in mind: getting accepted into the best school they can. And here are three individuals whose aspirations did not lead them to the same place. Although they are criminals, they are able to become educated. The value of education is often lost in the race to college. It is important to take a step back and remember: high school is for education, not just for getting into college.

Students constantly worry about how to get the “A” as opposed to how to gain the knowledge. It is important to remember what the great Mark Twain once said: “Never let schooling interfere with education.”