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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Prisoner Finalist In Philosophy Competition

Associated Press

One of four finalists in a philosophy debate over money vs. morality won’t be able to attend the championship round. He’s in prison for murder.

Phillip Torsrud was among 700 entrants in the Great American Think-Off, a philosophy contest in the west-central Minnesota town of New York Mills.

This year’s contest posed the question, “What does society value more: money or morality?”

“It is clear to me through my experience as an inmate in the Wisconsin Correctional System that money beats morality by a knockout in the first round,” Torsrud, an inmate at the maximum-security Green Bay Correctional Institution, wrote in his winning essay.

“I can’t take your morals from you, but I can take your money. That is why you will guard it and value it more,” wrote Torsrud, who was convicted in the 1990 shooting death of a 19-year-old man in Milwaukee.

The three other finalists get $500 and a trip to New York Mills for the final debate June 17.

Associate Warden Bob Kent said Tuesday that Torsrud will not be able to take part in the debate or even videotape a statement because he is being held in “segregation.” Kent said the segregation order was related to conduct within the prison, but would not elaborate.

Prison officials wouldn’t release Torsrud’s age or any background.

Contest officials said Torsrud’s essay will be read at the final debate, although he won’t be eligible to win or receive the $500.

The other finalists are Paul Pearson, a 16-year-old Eagle Scout and honors student from Northfield; Jackie Spinks, 66, a retired assembly line worker from Bellingham, Wash.; and Erik Tielking, 25, a University of Minnesota doctoral candidate specializing in biomedical ethics.

Pearson said his years as a volunteer have given him a strong sense of human kindness, so he chose morality.

“This is something I have a lot of experience with,” he said Tuesday. “Last year’s question was ‘What is the meaning of Life?’ I didn’t have a clue.”