A teenager jolted by a nine-year sentence for carjacking used his prison time to turn his path toward publishing two books and graduating from Yale School of Law, wrote Bari Weiss in The New York Times.
Reginald Dwayne Betts, 17, was sentenced to an adult prison. Later, he found himself in solitary confinement. During his stay in solitary confinement, someone gave him the book, The Black Poets.
“It introduced me to Etheridge Knight, to Rob Hayden, Lucille Clifton, Sonia Sanchez and so many countless Black writers and Black poets that really shaped who it is that I wanted to be in the world,” he said.
Following his release in 2005, Betts wrote two books of highly praised poetry and a memoir. Later, he received a B.A. and an MFA and became a Radcliffe fellow at Harvard according to the article. In May 2016, he graduated from Yale Law School.
“He personifies what people talk about when they speak of second chances,” said his lawyer, William Dow III.
But for Betts, his proudest achievement is his family life, as a husband and a father of two boys.
In February Betts passed the Connecticut state bar exam. He began to work as a public defender in New Haven, Conn. He was a man with a mission.
In a recent essay, he said that he had “to do something to halt the herding of young Black people behind bars.”
Later, he received a disheartening letter from the Bar Examining Committee quoting and referring him to Article IV of the Bar Examining Committee’s regulations, which states:
“A record manifesting a significant deficiency in the honesty, trustworthiness, diligence or reliability of an applicant may constitute a basis for denial of admission.”
He is being reviewed by a committee of judges and lawyers to decide if he is of “good moral character.” Since he is an ex-felon, there is no presumption of fitness to practice law, so he has to prove it with “clear and convincing evidence.,” said the article
“He personifies what people talk about when they speak of second chances”
His life since prison is clear evidence that he has more than rehabilitated himself, but the Connecticut bar appears to think that a felony is a lifetime stigma, noted the article.
James Forman Jr., his former professor at Yale, said that he was “thrilled” to be a reference for Betts. He said he was “outraged” that his former student has to clear such hurdles. said the article
Forman believes that ultimately all will go well for Betts, but he is unhappy about the message the bar is sending: An ex-felon does more than what is required and yet he is faced with rejection.
“We can signal to the world that we want to be leaders in extending second chances and mercy. Or we can signal the world that we are caught up in the mindset of 20 or 30 years ago,” Forman said
Betts wants to dedicate his law career to helping others who are similarly dismissed.
He is “a one-man wrecking ball for prejudice against people who often get written off,” said Noah Messing, law professor at Yale.