Reginald Betts
April 12, 2017

LACEY, Wash. – On a December day in the 1990s, Reginald Dwayne Betts was one of those rare 16-year-olds who had everything together. An honors student, he was thinking hard about college. The next day, he was arrested. Over the following nine years, he came to adulthood in a tough, maximum-security prison, serving time for a carjacking he and a friend did on a whim.

Always a reader, he escaped the realities of incarceration in books, and decided to become a writer himself. In 2016, he won the PEN New England Award for “Bastards of the Reagan Era,” a volume of poems plumbing the depths of his prison experience, life as an inner-city youth and fallout from the ’90s War on Drugs. His poetry captures what is very personal – the terror of a young man walking into prison, the pain inflicted on family and the hopelessness of ex-cons denied jobs.

On April 24, Betts will share selections from his works at a poetry reading presented by the Saint Martin’s Robert Harvie Social Justice Lecture Series. The reading, which will launch a discussion on prison reform, juvenile justice and related issues, will be from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the University’s Norman Worthington Conference Center, 5300 Pacific Ave. SE. It is free and the public is invited.

“Reginald Dwayne Betts is the ideal poet to read in the Harvie Lecture Series, and I’m thrilled he’s coming to campus,” says Associate Prof. of English Jamie Olson, Ph.D. who teaches modern poetry at Saint Martin’s. “I first encountered his poems in Poetry magazine, long before I knew of his advocacy for at-risk youth and his criticism of the American criminal justice system. When I read those poems, I was struck by the strong, colloquial voice that resonated through them, as well as the ethical imperative that drove them forward. His writing, which often concerns the experience of being a black man in America, buzzes with an urgency that I find both unsettling and inspiring. I liked it immediately.”

Betts redefined his life, even before leaving prison. He has completed an associate’s degree from Prince George’s Community College, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College and, in 2016, a law degree from Yale Law School. He is now the spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, a national initiative to end the prosecution, sentencing and incarceration of youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system. Betts’ advocacy led to his appointment to the Coordinating Council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention by President Barack Obama.

His other works include a second volume of poetry, “Shahid Reads His Own Palm,” and his memoir, “A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival and Coming of Age in Prison.”

The Harvie Social Justice Lecture Series was created by Saint Martin’s faculty member Robert Hauhart, Ph.D., J.D., professor and former chair of the Department of Society and Social Justice. Hauhart founded the series to raise awareness of social justice issues within the community. The series honors the work of Robert A. Harvie, J.D., former professor and chair of the University’s Department of Criminal Justice. For more information, contact Hauhart at 360-438-4525 or

Saint Martin’s University is an independent, four-year, coeducational university located on a wooded campus of more than 300 acres in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 14 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 25 majors and seven graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes more than 1,100 undergraduate students and 340 graduate students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its Lacey campus, and 350 more students to its extended campuses located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Centralia College and Tacoma Community College. Visit the Saint Martin’s University website at

For additional information:

Robert Hauhart, Ph.D., J.D.
Professor, Department of Society and Social Justice

Office of Media Relations