Reginald Dwayne Betts

Poet and Memoirist

Grantee Cohort Spring 2018, Spring 2019

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and memoirist who completed his JD at Yale Law School and MFA at Warren Wilson College. He has published A Question of Freedom, a memoir, and two collections of poems, Shahid Reads His Own Palm and Bastards of the Reagan Era. The pieces reflect on his personal experiences with the criminal justice system, and larger questions related to systemic discrimination, violence, and youth incarceration. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Law at Yale.

With support from Art for Justice grant, Titus and Reginald Dwayne Betts created “Redaction,” a series of works incorporating civil rights complaints filed primarily by Civil Rights Corps, another grantee partner. Redaction is a powerful new exhibit that addresses cash bail reform — an issue as pivotal as prosecutorial outreach when it comes to the dehumanizing elements of our justice system. Titus and Dwayne drew inspiration and source material from Civil Rights Corps lawsuits filed on behalf of people who remain locked up because they can’t afford bail, despite not having been tried or convicted. Dwayne’s poetry, which uses legal redactions artistically, is coupled with Titus’ unique printmaking techniques to create a visually sobering portrait of mass incarceration.

Also, through an Art for Justice Activating Art and Advocacy grant, the Civil Rights Corps are partnering with attorney and poet Dwayne and Titus to take Redaction from MoMA PS1 across the country. They hope that the exhibit will travel to communities with the highest rates of incarceration to start conversations with everyone from high school students to practitioners about the criminal justice system and bail reform.

Through a different Art for Justice Activating Art and Advocacy grant, recognizing the notoriously cruel practices of solitary confinement in Michigan, and the increase in solitary practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dwayne and Zealous are launching an arts and advocacy project called ‘Silenced’ that builds off hundreds of letters and pieces of art by and from people who trapped in solitary confinement in Michigan. The piece will amplify an ongoing campaign to end solitary confinement in Michigan prisons. To complement ‘Silenced,’ Betts and Zealous will develop an interactive curriculum on best practices for arts activism, including guidelines for artists to engage in critical issues without furthering harmful narratives and tropes.