SOMETIMES I hate to be right. Based on the poor preparation from the Youth Transformation and Rehabilitation Centre’s (YTRC) teenagers last year (which can only be blamed on the adults overseeing their debate) and based on the realisation over the last debating season that YTRC’s opponent, Maximum Security Prison (MSP), will pull out every trick in the book to win, I was expecting an uncomfortable match between the adults and teenagers.
The second debate of the second annual prisons inter-station debate competition held at the YTRC on July 24, unfortunately proved me right.
As usual, the researchers on both teams stood out. Jonathan Bruce of YTRC and Ryan Ramoutar from MSP provided compelling information for the debate: should Trinidad and Tobago’s prisons be privatised?
A debate’s tone is set in the opening. YTRC’s Malique Smiley had good points. He argued that privatised prisons would be more efficient, more innovative and more cost effective, and they would provide more employment for people outside of the public sector.
If his voice would have conveyed more emotion and if he had not read his arguments (the judges penalise for this), Smiley would have laid some important groundwork for his team.
Arnold Ramlogan, a seasoned veteran of the debates and member of last year’s all-start team, was MSP’s opener. He outlined the team’s argument in clear, concise visual terms. His bold baritone voice is mesmerising.
Ramlogan has developed a cookie-cutter approach to the opening arguments, recycling the same structure for every debate. While this proves effective, I would like to see him take creative chances and challenge himself to reach a higher level.
As always, the question-and-answer session of the Lincoln/Douglas debate format proved to be interesting and revealing. It found its way into my record book on that day for being both surprising and sad.
YTRC’s questioner Abijah Mason had pertinent questions and points about corruption in the public sector, but he didn’t challenge Prem Badree’s answers for MSP. Badree said private prisons would offer no programmes for inmates. YTRC did not tackle this assumption.
Badree, also a member of last year’s all-star team, possesses the uncanny ability to sound like he is answering questions he often skirts around, but again, lack of experience proved to be YTRC’s demise.
MSP’s Ishmael Khan used strategically scaffolded questions that an unexperienced debater could not answer. YTRC’s Joel Rambally answered questions the best he could and in many heart-wrenching moments conceded defeat because he nobly refused to try to lie his way out of answering questions for which he had no information.
Khan tried to present his questions in the most professional manner possible, and he expressed sadness afterwards that the teenagers are included in an exercise that is clearly for adults.
The rebuttal was another story of inexperience. YTRC’s Akera Herera used it to advance the opening. By now it was embarrassingly clear that adults put little or no effort into helping these boys.
On the other hand, MSP’s Khamraj Sahadeo, yet another representative to last year’s all-star debate team, presented a perfect rebuttal built and fashioned on the spot to attack his opponent’s arguments.
Sahadeo numbered and outlined his points, stating privatisation encouraged injustice. He argued food, water and health wouldn’t be subsidised.
“It will be a recipe for corruption,” he stated and even pointed out that privatising prisons was tried and failed in Antigua. “Instead of offering a blind experiment, let us reform what we have,” he argued.
Anthony Ramsumair’s conclusion summed up his team’s points and highlighted YTRC’s research well enough, but he had to face off against seasoned veteran and yet another member of last year’s all-star team Kester Benjamin, who leaves no stone unturned in his battles.
His closings are brutal.
In the end, MSP won by a landslide, scoring 710 points to YTRC’s 490 points. The top five debating spots went as follows:
5. Ishmael Khan
4. Prem Badree
3. Khemraj Sahadeo
2. Kester Benjamin
1. Arnold Ramlogan
MSP had emerged victorious, and its five top debaters were on the top ten individual debaters’ list at that point in the debates. MSP debaters joined three inmates from Golden Grove Prison and one from Carrera Convict Prison, but unforeseen trouble lurked around the corner.
Golden Grove Remand, which placed second last year, was about to meet Women’s Prison for a battle in Golden Grove Prison. Inmates from Remand had honed their skills, and the women were out for revenge after their shocking elimination in the preliminary round last year.