It’s like The Longest Yard in real life: professionals pitted against prisoners.
The Sing Sing Black Sheep
New York state’s Sing Sing is one of the most notoriously tough prisons in America. In 1931, Lewis E. Lawes was running Sing Sing and the decision was made to start a prison football team as a form of rehabilitation. The innovative program even drew sponsorship from the owner of the New York Giants, who provided Lawes with equipment, uniforms, and even players to help coach the prisoners. The Sing Sing Black Sheep were a force to be reckoned with by the time they hit the field for the first time that November. They clobbered an opposing team comprised of members of the state’s naval militia 33 to 0. In the years that followed, the Black Sheep consistently beat teams made up cops and military personnel, despite some problems with retaining their players—before a game in 1935, the starting quarterback and two other members of the team escaped prison. Two other players finished their sentences and went on to play in the NFL. Unfortunately, a 1936 state regulation banned the sales of game tickets to the public and put a premature end to both the Black Sheep.
The Bard Debate Union
This debate club can be found in New York’s Eastern Correctional Facility, which offers classes taught by staff from nearby Bard College. Members have defeated clubs from West Point and the University of Vermont. Nevertheless, they had their work cut out for them when arrangements were made for them to take on national champion Harvard’s prestigious debate club earlier this autumn. When the two met they went head to head over the topic “should public schools be allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students?” The Harvard club argued “yes” while the Bard club went the opposite route. After both sides had presented their positions, a panel of judges deemed the prisoners the winners since the Ivy Leaguers weren’t able to respond to each aspect of their arguments. The Harvard club opted not to speak to the press about their embarrassing loss but they later commended their opponents.