This spring, members of the Talkin’ Broncos, Boise State’s nationally award-winning speech and debate team, piloted a program to bring their oratory skills to an unusual group of students: inmates serving time at the Idaho State Correctional Center (ISCC).
On Tuesday, May 17, the Talkin’ Broncos graduated their first class of incarcerated orators through the Boise State Prison Debate Initiative. Participants celebrated their completion of the program with a British Parliament style debate between ISCC graduates and members of the Talkin’ Broncos.
“Watching the inmates grow and be successful was honestly life changing for me, and I am grateful to have gotten to be a part of the program,” said Mackenzie Moss, vice president of the Talkin’ Broncos. “One inmate expressed to me that he found a new reason to get out of bed in the morning and to live. He said that before it was hard to have much hope even for life post-release, but that after joining the program he felt impassioned to learn and to live up to his potential.”
The Boise State Prison Debate Initiative, which was modeled after other university programs across the nation, was brainstormed and implemented by Boise State alumna and guest communications lecturer Lauren Bramwell, with the cooperation of the Idaho Department of Corrections.
“We understand the benefits of educational programming in correctional facilities,” Bramwell said. “Higher education programs have been found to improve the social climate of prison populations, and we know that academic and vocational training are some of the strongest variables in decreasing post-release recidivism rates, which is why we wanted to implement this program.”
The program also gives Talkin’ Bronco competitors an opportunity to teach speech and debate skills to ISCC students. This allows them to practice, apply and further test their knowledge of forensics, while developing their own leadership style. A dozen-plus participants in the 14-week program developed important skills in interviewing, public presentation, research, writing and advocacy. ISCC participants debated topics ranging from the refugee crisis to the adoption of a domestic carbon tax.
“I very clearly witnessed the self esteem of multiple inmates rise within the time that myself and my colleagues spent in the prison,” Moss said. “Each inmate in the program saw immense individual growth. This is true for some inmates if only just in terms of an increase in self confidence and a new found ability to speak in front of others, whereas for others that started out a bit more confident there was a tremendous increase in their critical thinking skills and drive to learn. The biggest impact I saw overall was an increase desire for education, and an appreciation for the opportunity to have that education.”
And the program offered a valuable experience to competitors on the Talkin’ Broncos speech and debate team.
“The Talkin’ Broncos were not receiving any sort of additional academic credit for their involvement with the program,” Bramwell said. “Everything was completely volunteer based. Despite busy schedules and tough courses, they dedicated hours of their time to make this program possible – it really speaks to the caliber of students here at the university.”
Bramwell, who is headed to the University of Washington in the fall to pursue a law degree, is pleased with the program’s success.
“I believe the program instills a deep sense of commitment to social responsibility and civic engagement,” she said. “It gives students an opportunity to explore altruistic motivations for community participation, and allows them to witness first hand the power of public service and volunteerism.”
BY: CIENNA MADRID PUBLISHED 1:05 PM / JUNE 2, 2016