state:
Massachusetts
Local history:
The Norfolk Prison Colony Debating Society
Are prisons for punishment or rehabilitation?
Northeastern University
Exhibiting Partner:
International Village
1175 Tremont Street Boston, MA 02120
March 16, 2018May 15, 2018

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Massachusetts: The Norfolk Prison Colony Debating Society
Are prisons for punishment or rehabilitation?
Northeastern University

Norfolk Prison Colony was founded as the nation's first "community prison" in 1929. It was built on the philosophy of keeping incarcerated people engaged with, rather than removed from, the world. It had dormitories, not cells, a school, a quad, an auditorium. According to the prison school’s former principal Carlo Geromini, “Once you got inside the walls, you didn’t even know you were in a prison.” In 1931, a group of "lifers" formed Norfolk Prison Debating Society. The Norfolk debaters went up against—and regularly defeated—top college and university teams. Malcolm X wrote that his time on the debate team gave him his first taste of public speaking: "I was gone on debating." Another debater, Bruce Geary (a.k.a Sayif) said, “Winning something other than a fight... felt good.” By the 1980s, the national shift to "tough on crime" policies meant most programs at Norfolk had been eliminated.

Our Point of View

Until recently there was hardly any public record of the Norfolk Prison Debating Society. Radio producer Natasha Haverty and writer Adam Bright, with support from Massachusetts Humanities, spent two years uncovering the story and interviewing former prison debaters, their college opponents, coaches, and corrections staff. As graduate students at Northeastern University in Boston, we looked at these stories to help us understand the rehabilitative approach of Norfolk and to explore why rehabilitation was largely abandoned.

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Massachusetts: The Norfolk Prison Colony Debating Society    Northeastern University
Are prisons for punishment or rehabilitation?
Massachusetts: The Norfolk Prison Colony Debating Society
Are prisons for punishment or rehabilitation?
  Northeastern University

National Exhibition Venue    International Village

Public Dialogues and Events
| March 16 – May 15, 2018

See Full Exhibition & Events Schedule
“The punishment is the sentence. It's not the incarceration. ”  — Carol Mici, Deputy Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Corrections
“If we want to end mass incarceration, we can do so.”  — Carlos Monteiro, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Suffolk University

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