Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts
  • Lawyer and Poet
  • Artist in Residence (2021-2022)
  • Author of "Felon: Poems"

Reginald Dwayne transformed himself from a sixteen-year old kid sentenced to nine-years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of the Yale Law School. He has written three acclaimed collections of poetry, the recently published Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era, and Shahid Reads His Own Palm. His memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, is the story of a young man confined in the worst prisons in the state of Virginia, where solitary confinement, horrific conditions, and the constant violence threatened to break his humanity. Instead, Betts used the time to turn himself into a poet, a scholar, and an advocate for the reform of the criminal justice system.

He was awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship and is the recipient of numerous other awards and honors, including an American Book Award, PEN/New England Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, Radcliffe Fellowship, and a 2019 National Magazine Award for Getting Out, his New York Times Magazine article about his journey from prison to becoming a licensed attorney. He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland; an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College, where he was a Holden Fellow; 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.

During his time at Yale, Betts founded the Freedom Reads project, which aims to curate a collection of 500 books to be placed in prisons throughout the U.S.