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Reginald Dwayne Betts image

Attorney, Poet,
and Executive Director of Freedom Reads

BIOGRAPHY

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet, lawyer, and the Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads, an initiative to radically transform access to literature in prisons.

The author of a memoir and three collections of poetry, he has transformed his latest collection of poetry, the American Book Award Winning Felon, into a solo theater show that explores the post incarceration experience and lingering consequences of a criminal record through poetry, stories, and engaging with the timeless and transcendental art of papermaking. Dwayne’s most recent work, released 2023, Redaction, a collaboration with artist Titus Kaphar, is based on their 2019 exhibition “The Redaction” at MoMA PS1 about the U.S. cash bail system–the state and federal court system’s conditions by which those arrested, but unable to afford bail, remain incarcerated even though they have been neither tried nor convicted.

In 2019, Dwayne won the National Magazine Award in the Essays and Criticism category for his New York Times Magazine essay, Getting Out, that chronicles his journey from prison to becoming a licensed attorney. He is also a 2021 MacArthur Fellow, has been awarded a Radcliffe Fellowship from Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Emerson Fellow at New America, and most recently a Civil Society Fellow at Aspen. Dwayne holds a J.D. from Yale Law School.

In 2020, after staying in New Haven post-graduation, Dwayne founded Freedom Reads with a $5.25 million grant from the Mellon Foundation. Freedom Reads, headquartered in Hamden and employing several formerly incarcerated individuals, is the only organization in the country with a mission to open libraries in prison cellblocks, and thereby support the efforts of incarcerated individuals to imagine new possibilities for their lives. To date, Freedom Reads has opened 303 Freedom Libraries in 37 prisons and juvenile detention facilities across 10 states. These libraries provide a locus where conversation and community can begin inside and outside of prison walls. They are objects of beauty, handcrafted by teams that include people who themselves have served time in prison and populated with a 500-book, carefully curated collection that includes poetry, literature, non-fiction, and more. As Dwayne often declares, “Freedom begins with a book.” 

 

Reginald Dwayne Betts website

Freedom Reads

RDB Instagram

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