N Touch
Wednesday 29 January 2020
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Sex talk at prisons debate

Debbie Jacob
Debbie Jacob

SHOULD TT prisons introduce conjugal visits? That was the hot topic for the historical debate between Port of Spain Prison and Tobago Prison. In this, the second year of the annual inter-station prison debates, Tobago Prison joined the competition. The two teams met via a Skype connection on July 25.

Both teams had ample amount of time to size up each other online as prisons’ Rise Radio and the communication department attempted to iron out the glitches.

Port of Spain Prison had not witnessed the Tobago Prison team’s transformation from the nervous (to the point of shaking) group of young men who questioned their abilities in the Wishing for Wings Foundation’s workshop in June to the poised and confident, well-rehearsed group of young men who appeared on debate day.

Port of Spain Prison debaters expressed surprise at Tobago Prison debaters’ business attire: pink shirts, black vests and ties. If Tobago Prison debaters interpreted the casual black polo shirts worn by Port of Spain debaters as a reflection of a casual and ordinary demeanour, they would have made a big mistake. Port of Spain debaters are always a force to be reckoned with.

Tobago Prison debaters’ imposing presence – even online – and their immaculate image all had to do with their extraordinary prison officer Dwayne Cupid who prepared his team admirably well. One of the greatest joys I have had in these debates is to see how many caring and committed prison officers have supported their debate teams beyond the call of duty.

To be fair to both teams, judges sat in a separate room so they would see the debaters only via computer. This proved to be a challenge with constant technical difficulties.

In the opening, Tobago’s Yadulla Muhammad produced a strong argument in favour of conjugal visits, pointing out that these visits are not just about sex. His team’s position would stress that conjugal visits are important, extended family visits and family meaning everything in Tobago.

Port of Spain Prison’s opening debater Daryl Wade presented a list of problems his team would address including privacy issues and the emotional impact of extended visits on inmates and their families. Wade asked, “What would happen with longer visits? And where would these visits take place in overcrowded prisons?”

Port of Spain’s team also brought up the question of safety, citing cases where women had been killed during conjugal visits.

In the Lincoln/Douglas debate format, Ken Jones asked questions for the Tobago team and Ronnie John of Port of Spain Prison answered. The exchange proved to be a worthy battle with both sides holding their ground.

Port of Spain Prison’s questioner Aaron Garcia had difficulty focusing his questions, which made his aggressive tone appear belligerent. Tobago’s Masudi Mayhew kept his composure during questioning that was difficult for anyone to understand. Mayhew would not be intimidated.

August Stewart handled the rebuttal admirably well, covering for teammate Shakeem Cadiz who had court on the day of the debate. Stewart reiterated his team’s position on the importance of conjugal visits for promoting the family and criticised the Port of Spain team for making it look like conjugal visits were only about sex.

Netfa Felix handled the rebuttal for PoS. He was brave enough to construct most of his rebuttal on the spot, which is what a rebutter should do ideally. Still, anyone who witnessed Felix’s brilliant closing arguments in the past would have missed him as closer, his most natural and effective position. Damien Robinson’s closing remarks proved to be a strong recap of his team’s position as well, but it could have been more visual.

Tobago’s main problem was the poor Internet feed, which the judges criticised. It made judging them difficult. In the end, Port of Spain proved victorious.

On the same day, the girls from the Youth Training Rehabilitation Centre pulled off a surprising victory over the Eastern Correction and Rehabilitation Centre.

In a country plagued by crime, it might seem that prison debates have little value, but I beg to differ. If you can teach young men and women in prison to read and argue a point, look up valid support for their arguments and collaborate as a team, I think they have a better chance of surviving outside. Communication skills are vitally important, and debating helps to hone those skills.

The semifinal round of the inter-station prison debates begins today when debaters from the Maximum Security Prison meet debaters from Carrera Convict Prison at Carrera.

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