I THOUGHT the first prison debate in the second annual Prison Inter-station Debates on July 13 would be a walk in the park for Carrera Convict Prison. Carrera’s captain, Aaron Charles, had ranked among the top ten debaters out of 80 participants in last year’s inter-station debates, and he was now determined to build a strong team. But I sensed trouble when Charles made his way to me.
“We weren’t getting time to come together to practise,” he said. Charles’ worry was palpable, and he appeared anxious when the debate “Are Venezuelan immigrants an asset to Trinidad and Tobago” kicked off.
Carrera’s opener, Kenneth Alexander, presented his position that Venezuelan immigrants are indeed an asset to the country. He argued Venezuelans could add to the economy by doing jobs Trinidadians reject. “They could add their expertise to the medical and agricultural profession and help make Trinidad and Tobago bilingual. There is power in unity,” he argued. “We can absorb them. We are rich in diversity.”
When Golden Grove’s opener, Riche David, rose to deliver his argument, he painted a different picture: “Venezuela is a nation in crisis,” he said. “The majority of migrants are coming illegally through our unsecured borders. That means people aren’t being screened properly for HIV, malaria and other health issues. There is sex trafficking.”
David outlined his points clearly, hardly glancing at his notes.
A heated question-and-answer session between Carrera’s Hassan Hosein and Golden Grove’s Garth Glasgow plunged into the argument over jobs with Glasgow insisting, “We have people being retrenched here. They need jobs.” Hosein asked, “Do you have statistics for the crimes you refer to that Venezuelans are committing?” Both sides held their own, and it seemed to be a dead heat.
The tables turned and Golden Grove’s Kevin Ganteaume asked the questions. Carrera’s Edwin Grayham answered. Ganteaume presented the dictionary definition of an asset and asked, “Do you agree an asset is a resource with economic value that an individual, corporation or country owns or controls with the expectation that it will provide future benefit?”
Grayham would not be swayed. “People can be an asset,” he insisted. He insisted that most immigrants are honest Venezuelans.
Ganteaume’s teammates signalled Carrera was eating up their time, and Ganteaume heeded their warnings.
Predictably, Charles starred in the rebuttal, hitting the other side with newspaper articles and statistics that slammed their arguments. He insisted that Venezuelan immigration was a humanitarian issue.
Golden Grove’s Adrian Mitchell attacked Carrera on the issue of crime and Venezuelan immigrants. His voice was too loud and Kevin Elias to his left tried to get him to hold the microphone properly. Clearly Golden Grove had gelled as a team.
It was down to the closers. Carrera’s Wayne Garcia couldn’t muster all the emotion he needed to be persuasive. “But really this is a spiritual argument. We’re talking about giving people a chance,” he argued.
Golden Grove’s closer, Elias, spoke of crime and illegal immigration. He created a visual image of the long waits in hospitals, which would only be compounded by Venezuelan immigrants. He broke down problems into visual segments with no notes to use as a crutch.
“Not all neighbours should be considered neighbours,” he said in closing and the Golden Grove inmates in the audience, who had to be reminded at times to control their support for their team, could no longer be held back. They erupted in shouts and applause.
In the end, the judges mentioned the pitfalls of reading arguments and noted the teamwork for which the Golden Grove team clearly stood out. “A debate,” they said, “is like a vocal powerpoint presentation.” Judges commended Carrera researchers Steve Lyder and John Richards and Golden Grove’s Orlando Ganesh and Clayton Drayton.
“I am amazed you are in a gated community, but your researchers have more information than those outside,” said a judge. Golden Grove won with 665 points to Carrera’s 570 points.
Golden Grove was on top of the world, but their top spot could be threatened when Maximum Security Prison (MSP), last year’s number one debate team with all its returning members, meets the Youth Transformation and Rehabilitation Centre. MSP is known to wage ruthless battles.
Individual scores for the Golden Grove/Carrera debate:
5. Hassan Hosein 337 (Carrera)
4. Kevin Ganteaume 351 (Golden Grove)
3. Riche David 367 (Golden Grove)
2. Aaron Charles 376 points (Carrera)
1. Garth Glasgow 377 points (Golden Grove)
1. Kevin Elias 377 points (Golden Grove)