Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. A 2021 MacArthur Fellow, he is the Executive Director of Freedom Reads, a not-for-profit organization that is radically transforming access to literature in prisons through the installation of Freedom Libraries in prisons across this country.

For more than twenty-years, he has used his poetry and essays to explore the world of prison and the effects of violence and incarceration on American society. 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 paper-making. In 2019, Betts won the National Magazine Award in the Essays and Criticism category for his NY Times Magazine essay that chronicles his journey from prison to becoming a licensed attorney. He 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. Betts holds a J.D. from Yale Law School and is 2017 Right of Return Fellow.

Right of Return Project


Redaction is a collaboration between artist Titus Kaphar and attorney Reginald Dwayne Betts, who have each examined the ills of the criminal justice system in their work. For this project, they are bringing attention to the issue of cash bail, which is required in many state and federal court systems. If you are arrested and don’t have the cash to cover your bail, you are held, even if you have not been tried or convicted. Many are incarcerated for long periods of time and later released, whether charges are dropped or they are found innocent after adjudication. The exhibition features more than 30 prints that combine Kaphar’s portraits of incarcerated individuals with the poetry of Betts. By redacting legal documents from lawsuits filed by the Civil Rights Corps on behalf of clients unable to pay court fees, Betts strings together verse with the words that remain exposed. Betts’ Redaction project began with his 2017 Right of Return fellowship which was then expanded with the support of an Art for Justice Grant.