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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Daniel S. Throop

The Inside Story of a Legendary Prison Debate Team

Our victories over college students weren’t just for us—they were for incarcerated people everywhere.

by Daniel S. Throop, The Marshall Project, in collaboration with Vice

“I can’t believe they lost!” I blurted out to confused looks from my five cellies while reading a recent edition of The New Yorker.

Thinking my outburst was likely baseball-related, one of the guys asked me, “Did your Pirates drop another one, Throop?”

“No,” I replied. “Norfolk lost to Harvard.”

With all due respect to the Crimson, I was stunned to learn that the Norfolk Prison Debating Society had been edged in a recent debate on the topic of eliminating the Electoral College. That’s because I’m the prisoner who rebuilt and trained the team after years of inactivity, and I knew first-hand how talented they were.

Back in the day, the Norfolk debate society was the stuff of legend, with a pedigree that included the great Malcolm X as a member. It was such a dominant force in debate that from 1933 to 1966 it compiled a win-loss record of 144-8 against some of the best college teams across the Northeast.

Unfortunately, those memories turned to myths after a half-century of ...


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