Poet and Attorney Reginald Dwayne Betts Talks About His Journey “From Jail to Yale”

Betts says books helped him discover what was possible for his life. He will give a performance entitled “Felon: An American Washi Tale” as part of a Wayne State University virtual event Thursday at 7 p.m.

From imprisonment to Yale Law School, criminal defendant to criminal defense attorney: That is the story of Reginald Dwayne Betts.

At the age of 16, Betts went to prison for carjacking, the kind of crime and punishment that can significantly hinder a young person’s life and their future.

“I think my story is about what’s possible. And in prison, a lot of those guys wanted to find a way to be something more.” – Reginald Dwayne Betts

After serving over eight years of his nine-year sentence, Betts found a way to a better life. It was through poetry that he first became driven to find new meaning in his life. Now, he’s a graduate of Yale Law School and a celebrated author, public speaker and social justice activist.

Betts will give a performance Thursday night as part of Wayne State University’s Arthur L. Johnson Urban Perspectives Lecture Series. The virtual event begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Listen: Poet and formerly incarcerated person Reginald Dwayne Betts talks about his journey from prison to poet.


Reginald Dwayne Betts is an attorney, author, poet, public speaker and activist. Betts talks about how he overcame difficult circumstances and how he hopes his story can inspire others. “I think my story is about what’s possible. And in prison, a lot of those guys, wanted to find a way to be something more. I don’t know what people take from my story. I hope that people see that I played it straight and told it true,” says Betts.

When he explains how art and poetry helped him emotionally cope with what he was going through, he says, “The challenge is trying to admit that there’s no utopia. And art helps you admit that and try to deal with it.” Betts puts reading at the center of how he turned his life around, “It really is books,” he says. “Finding poetry, finding a voice in poetry, then coming home to become an educator.”

Web story by Allise Hurd.

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