Partnership places GPSTS at the cutting edge of strategic gaming as a rehabilitation tool under difficult conditions.
The GPSTS has always believed that poker specifically, and strategic gaming generally, are useful as teaching tools, and that under the right conditions, strategic games can help change lives. This summer, GPSTS founder and president Charles Nesson decided to put that idea to the test, and in the most unlikely of places: the Tower Street Adult Correctional Facility in Kingston, Jamaica. By partnering with Students Expressing Truth, Jamaica’s most successful and innovative charitable reform organization, the GPSTS is making it its mission to show that strategic gaming not only teaches, but heals.
The partnership is in some senses a natural one for the GPSTS: Prof. Nesson has enjoyed over a decade of fruitful professional intercourse with Students Expressing Truth and its governor and director, Kevin Wallen. In that time Prof. Nesson, personally and under the auspices of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, has provided valuable theoretical expertise and insight to the S.E.T. Foundation, and has helped the organization to grow.
But why? Why sponsor the teaching of poker and other forms of strategic gaming in a prison? There is no better way to assess how rehabilitative and hope-inspiring a strategy is than by siting it in an extreme context. The three prisons in which the S.E.T. Foundation operates — the Tower Street, South Camp, and Fort Augusta maximum-security correctional facilities — are Jamaica’s most overcrowded, and house some of Jamaica’s least fortunate citizens. Most of them are driven to lives of crime due to lack of employment opportunities and marketable skills in a very volatile economy; the system of laws governing them is British postcolonial and is structurally unforgiving of transgressions. Long prison terms are the norm, and the climate, unmitigated, is brutal.
The S.E.T. Foundation restores hope and dignity to the inmates of these facilities over a several years’ long process of discussion and education. In particular, the S.E.T. Foundation specializes in giving its members lessons in media production and other aspects of information technology, skills that are rare and highly sought after in Jamaica. But frequently the teaching of skill in itself is not enough: program participants’ entire world views require change.
By playing strategic games such as poker, S.E.T. program participants acquire the intellectual toolset needed to survive and thrive in a challenging world. To date, the program enjoys a startling zero percent recidivism rate. The GPSTS’s partnership with the S.E.T. foundation will allow S.E.T. to expand into the Jamaican public school system — educating and providing hope pre-emptively — and provides the GPSTS with a testbed and audience for instruction through strategic gaming. It is with the greatest of pleasure that the GPSTS has chosen to sponsor the program.