Texas inmates take on Texas A&M debate team

Published: Oct. 19, 2016 at 5:19 PM CDT
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The Texas A&M debate team recently traveled for a match-up against a unique opponent: a group of Texas prisoners.

With 11 national debate championships under his belt, Adam Key decided to coach a different type of team: 12 inmates from Lee College Huntsville Center.

"I want to go work with the people who need this the most," said Key, the instructor of speech and director of debate at Lee College Huntsville Center.

Key started the debate team as an extracurricular opportunity for the prisoners. The lesson plans stuck quickly.

"These students learned in a period of a couple months what has taken some of my students years to learn," said Key.

After a year of practice, Key, who is also a doctoral student at Texas A&M, arranged for his team to square off against A&M's debate team. The inmates won 3-2.

Key asked his team members to share what they learned through the experience.

"It helps you mentally in so many ways. It exercises your brain in a way that nothing else really does,” said Craig Caudill, an inmate and debater.

"Even though we are offenders and don't have a vote, we still have a voice," said another inmate and debater, David Manis.

Key says all of his past wins couldn't compare to moment of bliss when the prisoners found out they were champions.

"There is no win that will ever mean more to me than that moment when I got to announce that they won, because prison isn't a place where you see people smile a lot," said Key.

Texas A&M Debate President Michael Buse says the inmates' level of debate was on par with other colleges they have faced.

"Losing is awful, but if there was anyone I ever was to lose to, I'm glad it was them," said Buse.

After the debate, Key's team was overjoyed and shared some of the kindest words that Key says he's ever heard.

"The most meaningful thing that any debater has ever told me: 'Thank you, Coach,'" said Key.

Key wants to continue his efforts in different prisons in the area. He hopes to help arrange for other universities across the country to come and debate inmate teams. The Lee College team received congratulations from the Department of Correctional Education for their achievement.

Key does get paid for teaching at Lee College, but starting the extracurricular debate team was his decision.