March 07, 2023 — Award-winning author, 2021 MacArthur Fellow and lawyer Reginald Dwayne Betts spoke about the transformative power of reading and explored the prison experience through poetry during his performance “Felon: An American Washi Tale” at the University of Houston Law Center during Black History Month.
Incarcerated at 16, Betts started writing poetry in prison. He went on to become a critically acclaimed writer and Yale Law School graduate.
“The only thing that has taught me how to resolve whatever horrors I've seen and whatever horrors I've inflicted on somebody else is the time I have spent with books,” Betts said on the power of literature. “So much of what we become is based on our belief of what is possible for us.”
A backdrop to the performance was an arched handcrafted bookshelf. Betts explained that the curved design allows access to books on both sides and creates a community. The shelf is part of Freedom Reads, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2020 that opens libraries in prisons.
“Libraries present a world of possibility and opportunity that doesn’t exist without it,” Betts said on the importance of his mission to bring books into prisons.
According to the project page, Freedom Reads has shipped more than 77,000 books across 40 states.
During the performance, Betts shared pieces from his book “Felon,” which won the 2020 American Book Award.
He captures the time lost to incarceration in “Felon” stating, “we first discovered jail cells decades ago, as teenagers & just today, a mirror reminded me of my disappeared self.”
Betts holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland; an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College; and a J.D. from Yale Law School. He is a Ph.D. in Law candidate at Yale and, as a Liman Fellow, he spent a year representing clients in the New Haven Public Defender’s Office.
He was also one of 25 selected for the 2021 MacArthur Fellowship — also known as a genius grant, that awards exceptionally talented and creative individuals with a significant, unrestricted grant.
The event was part of the Bracewell LLP Distinguished Lecture in Racial and Social Justice and was co-sponsored by Bracewell LLP, the University of Houston Law Center and the University of Houston College of Education.
For more information on this speaker please visit: www.simonspeakers.com.
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