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Friday 13 December 2019
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Prison shocker in Woodford Square

Debbie Jacob
Debbie Jacob

It had been a long journey from Port of Spain Prison to Woodford Square. Distance wise, it’s not so far, but measuring those miles in accomplishments seemed impossible last Wednesday when Port of Spain (PoS) prison’s debaters faced Maximum Security Prison’s (MSP) debaters to determine the winner of the second annual prison inter-station debates.

We had begun that journey five years ago in my PoS Prison CXC English class. Prison officer Joel Roberts threw out the idea of having a debate when I struggled to get my class to write persuasive essays. Three years later, we developed debate teams in all the prisons.

Last year, in the first prison inter-station debate competition, MSP beat PoS Prison in the semifinal round by one point. Stunned and bitter over the loss, PoS Prison vowed debating revenge. The rematch came down to this year’s historical final in Woodford Square where PoS argued for the decriminalisation of marijuana and MSP argued against.

MSP (as judges have pointed out in the past) exude confidence, which tends to escalate into cockiness. PoS’s debaters’ possess a rough, raw talent, but they tend to be fractious.

PoS prison’s lead debater Daryl Wade – the only debater left from my first prison debate team – set the stage for a passionate debate in the bandstand. Always a master at structure, Wade managed to slow down his presentation and inject more feeling into his presentation. He ditched his usual staccato delivery and incorporated some effective pauses.

Unfortunately, he went over his time, which judges penalise. MSP’s opening structure is always solid, but predictable for those who have heard it repeatedly over two years. Ryan Ramoutar, MSP’s lead researcher, has replaced Arnold Ramlogan as the opening debater.

Ramlogan’s smooth broadcasting voice wracks up points with the judges. He is now MSP’s closer and his argument’s structure matches Kester Benjamin’s when he served as closer. Benjamin now answers questions in the Lincoln/Douglas debate format. He is engaging, witty and knowledgeable, but likes to waste his opponent’s time.

I would rather hear him elevate his strategy to tighter answers worthy of his intellect. PoS’s Netfa Felix finally gained control of his heavy voice. He asked Benjamin interesting and pertinent questions, but he could have controlled Benjamin’s runaway answers better.

Prem Badree’s smooth deliver serves his purpose when he skirts questions or offers false statements as if they’re the truth. His rebuttal proved puzzling, but he sounds convincing. That seems to suffice for most people, but I want to see him aim for higher standards.

Khamraj Sahadeo, a positive force on the team, rarely has the opportunity to debate because of court commitments, and so the audience didn’t get to see him perform in Woodford Square. I always find MSP’s Ishmael Khan mesmerising for his ability to change his tone to fit his opponent’s style.

Against YTRC boys earlier this year, Khan was firm, but kind while his teammates ravaged the poorly prepared teens. Against PoS, he attacked like a growling Rottweiler. Without bullying, he shut down PoS’s Ronnie John decisively. I would like to see Khan ask higher level questions and refrain from asking his opponent to define terms.

But the star of Wednesday’s show was PoS’s Aaron Garcia. His witty, knowledgeable and engaging rebuttal, proved the power of humour. He attacked with full force. It was the best rebuttal I have ever witnessed, and it propelled Garcia from nowhere into the number four spot on the top ten prison debater list.

Then it was down to the closers. If PoS was going to pull this out of the hat, they would have to rely on Cornelius La Borde, who became distracted by his own cheering section. He faltered and finally broke down. True, his moving personal anecdote about his girlfriend who recently died of lupus made him emotional, but his preparation was poor and his argument needed to hinge less on religion.

In the end, PoS Prison somehow managed to beat MSP by 20 points. Win or lose, I am hoping PoS’ debaters realise they must up their game and represent more consistently. MSP needs to realise they are capable of higher level debating. That means taking more creative chances.

They spend too much unnecessary time attacking the credibility of opponents by trying to convince the judges that the opposing team cannot interpret the questions correctly. That’s condescending. MSP is the most cohesive team in the whole competition, and I expect them to avenge with dignity, style and even greater aplomb in the future.

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