When three inmates at a New York maximum-security prison beat Harvard College in a debate last month, they said they simply wanted to compete and show the power of a prison education.They never expected what happened next. The Wall Street Journal’s article on their victory became a hit on social media, drew news coverage around the world and brought scores of inquiries from movie producers jostling for film rights.For men who have no access to the Internet—and in many cases were incarcerated before the rise of Twitter—the speed and breadth of attention has been stunning, said their debate coach, David Register. […]The men in last month’s debate are on a roughly 20-member team at Eastern New York Correctional Facility in the Catskills. They are pursuing degrees through the Bard Prison Initiative, a part of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., which offers about 300 inmates statewide a rigorous college experience.
This story is a reminder that so many young people in the United States lack the kind of mentoring, care, and attention that can make the difference in the direction that a young life takes. It also points to the unfairness of a system that so highly privileges the college admissions process. It is hard to get into Harvard but even harder to flunk out of it, and the college admissions process is not a magical sorcerer’s hat which automatically sorts life’s winners and losers. Most people do most of their growth and maturing much later in life, and we need to work toward a system that de-emphasizes what college you got into, putting more weight on what you have learned and what you have become.I am very proud of the colleagues who walked the extra mile to make a first class education possible for these inmates, and hope that their example will inspire others to reach out and change lives.