boston latinos

Prison vs. Harvard in an Unlikely Debate

Inmate debate team is part of Bard College program helping give prisoners a chance for a better life.

On one side of the stage at a maximum-security prison here sat three men incarcerated for violent crimes.

On the other were three undergraduates from Harvard College.

After an hour of fast-moving debate on Friday, the judges rendered their verdict.

The inmates won.

The audience burst into applause. 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.

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.” 

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I don’t know how many people have actually heard of this because I have yet to see it circulating on tumblr, but on Wednesday 08/19/15 two white men in south boston beat a homeless Latino man with a metal pole and then urinated on him. While they have most definitely been charged, the most despicable part of this ordeal is that they were inspired by Donald Trump’s comments about immigration. They believed that they were doing a service to America because they were sending a message to all the “illegals” out there. Donald Trump has not condemned these men. He has instead called them passionate, an adjective that in this context sounds like he’s praising them. As a queer black woman I have debated whether or not I actually want to vote in this election. I hate Hillary. Always have. Always will. But I do love Bernie, but the people who tend to align themselves with the Sanders ideology tend to be liberal white people who don’t understand and don’t want to understand anything from an intersectional perspective and because of that I thought maybe I would not vote this year. But after hearing about this and the republican radio host who said literally asked the question “what is wrong with slavery” when talking about how to “deal” with Latinx immigrants, I understand that voting this year is not a choice. I have to vote. The top contender from the Republican Party is not only outright misogynistic but also outright racist and classist. We cannot allow Donald Trump to get into office. The outcome of this presidential election could catapult us into the future or frankly drag us kicking and screaming into the past. Please go out and vote. Please. The lives of so many people depend on it.

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A Spanish-language instructor taught an immersion course to several front line City of Boston employees in January (photo: Don Harney / Mayor’s Office).

My story in the Boston Business Journal about the pilot program can be found here.

Demographic shift prompts city to brush up on language skills

For two days in mid-January, 13 city of Boston employees did not show up at their desks. Instead, they spent 14 hours immersed in a basic Spanish-language course designed to teach them how to better engage Hispanic residents.

The course, held at City Hall, was part of a constituent-services pilot program rolled out by Mayor Thomas Menino. All 13 are front line workers, or those with direct contact with the general public.