My awesome project is to start a debate program in South Florida prisons as part of the existing organization, Exchange for Change. The pilot for this will be a semester-long course on argumentation and debate at Dade Correctional, a men’s prison. Through a combination of lectures, in-class activities, writing assignments and, of course, oral debates, the class will expose inmates to both the theory and practice of sound reasoning and persuasive communication. The project will have multiple benefits. For those students facing re-entry in the near future, it will provide practical and transferrable skills to aid in their transition into society and the workforce. For those students facing longer and/or life sentences, the class will be transformative for their daily lives in the prison, improving interpersonal communications with prison staff and fellow inmates, boosting conflict resolution and critical thinking, and serving to aid in their self-actualization. The debate program will be a boon for Miami in several ways. First, the program enriches the lives of participating inmates, who are still members of the Miami-Dade community though they reside behind bars. Second, this program will be transformative for its facilitators, offering fulfilling opportunities for civic engagement and breaking barriers between the “inside” and “outside” worlds of the criminal justice system. This will have further ripple effects when considering that one of the greatest civil rights issues of our day concerns the ways former prisoners are integrated into mainstream society, a problem that stems from a fundamental denial of the basic humanity of incarcerated folks. Finally, this program has a high potential of replicability. As it becomes implemented throughout, not just the state, but the country as well, it will further help elevate Miami’s stature and allow it to be known, not simply as a center for leisure and wealth, but also a hub for social innovation.
Funded by Miami, FL (September 2016)