I NEVER expected to see inmates dressed in the red, white and black stripes and ruffled tie of a TT judge, but when it comes to surprises, you can count on the inmates of the Golden Grove Remand Prison debate team. They call themselves the Remand Elites, and they always have surprises up their sleeves.
Not to be outdone by their opponents on July 26, debaters from Women’s Prison came to the table impeccably dressed in straight grey skirts, stockings and fitted cotton peach shirts with their team’s embroidered emblem, a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Clearly, the women had not forgotten their shocking elimination in last year’s preliminary round of debates. Much had been expected of the highly competitive women; nothing was expected of Remand Prison, and Remand rose to second place in last year’s prison inter-station debate competition.
Now, the women faced off against Remand to debate an emotionally charged topic: “Is the present state of our judiciary healthy for our prisons?” Remand had the unenviable position of arguing that the judiciary is currently in a healthy state. Their argument stressed the operative word was “currently.”
Opener Terrence Morris, who made the prison all-star debate team last year, said “strategic methods were being used to reduce cases and that there was a clear move from retributive to restorative justice.” He explained that the delays were not because of the judiciary, but because of lawyers’ delaying tactics.
Morris made a clear distinction between the DPP’s office and the judiciary. In closing, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this court now stands adjourned.” His opening proved dramatic.
Team Phoenix’s opener Joann Alleyne said, “We feel sorry Remand has to defend the inefficiency of the court system with its backlog of cases.” Alleyne and all the women had memorised their presentations. Their arguments included searing visual imagery of men and women languishing in prison because of the court system.
“Our judicial system is modern insanity,” she said.
Both sides continued to offer a detailed breakdown of the legal system.
Jaylon Robinson, one of last year’s top interrogators, asked heated questions, which tried to force the women to rely on facts more than anecdotes. But Asha Sooklal held her ground and challenged Robinson’s questions.
As usual, Remand’s David Khan proved to be imperturbable in answering questions. With steadfast grace and grit, he stuck to his team’s points and refused to be cut off when fielding Melissia Thomas’ questions.
In a sweeping gesture pointing out Remand’s judicial robes, Women Prison’s rebutter Shastri Jagroop said, “I’m flabbergasted you’d dress like that.” She met an impressively cool Kenyatta King in the rebuttal round. Both sides addressed the opposing team’s arguments and met the debates’ stringent rules for offering on-the-spot rebuttals. The judges would later say they would have liked to have heard more arguments addressed.
“You don’t have to meet the minimum requirement,” one judge pointed out.
The judges acknowledged the inmates’ impressive knowledge of the law and commended researchers Kerry Swann and Andy Leven from Remand Elites and Amelia Maharaj and Grace Cupid from Women’s Prison for in-depth research.
As usual, the closing arguments were passionate and dramatic. Remand’s Marlon Lee hit hard with well-organised closing remarks that included points he gathered during the debate. He summed up his team’s position that change was occurring. Trials were taking place at a quicker pace, and inmates had more choices he said. He criticised the women’s team for making their arguments more personal than general.
The women hit hard with closer Aisha Lee who presented a dramatic, visual argument about how delays in court affected conditions in prison. Her closing earned her the position as top debater.
Before this debate, Maximum Security Prison (MSP) had all five of its debate team represented. The women wiped two MSP inmates out of the top ten, and all five women made the top ten positions for the all-around team at this point. Marlon Lee and Kenyatta King also placed in the top ten positions after this debate.
Banking on the notion that no one could outscore the points they had achieved, the women quickly decided to put five new debaters in the semifinals scheduled to start on September 9 so they can try to capture more top ten spots.
When the dust settled after the preliminary round, MSP and Women’s Prison had tied for first place with 710 points in the team competition. Golden Grove followed with 665 points and Remand with 640 points, and the Tobago debate team was about to make history.