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Postponed: New York Barring Freedom Event: Reginald Dwayne Betts

POSTPONED! UC Santa Cruz Institute of the Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, is pleased to present an afternoon reading and talk by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Betts is an award-winning author, poet, lawyer, and outspoken critic of the U.S. criminal justice system.

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May 2, 2020 @ 6:00 pm 8:00 pm

A black man in profile.

For this event, he will read from his current latest collection of poetry, Felon, which interrogates and challenges notions of justice and discuss it in relation to his experience of incarceration at the age of sixteen and his current work on the impacts of incarceration. Following his presentation, Gina Dent, cultural theorist, feminist studies scholar, and long-time prison abolitionist will join him in conversation.

May 2, 3-4:30 p.m.
Reading: Reginald Dwayne Betts
Followed by a Q&A with Gina Dent
Moot Court, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
524 W 59th St, New York, NY 10019

Works from the Redaction Project, Bett’s collaboration with visual artist Titus Kaphar is also on view at Shiva Gallery, John Jay College of Criminal Justice April 29-July 16, 2020 as part of Barring FreedomBarring Freedom is a bi-coastal exhibition of contemporary art and programmatic intiative organized by UC Santa Cruz Institute of the Art about art, prisons, and justice. With more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, a majority of them black or brown, virtually all of them from poor communities, Barring Freedom aims to challenge one of the obstacles to justice in the United States: the failure of many to see the biases within the criminal justice system—much less comprehend the social problems that the system serves to obscure. 

Reginald Dwayne Betts transformed himself from a sixteen-year old kid sentenced to nine-years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of the Yale Law School. He has written three collections of poetry, including Felon, 2019, which New York Times critic Michiko Kukatani called “haunting and harrowing.”  His memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, is the story of his experiences in the worst prisons in the state of Virginia, where solitary confinement, horrific conditions, and the constant violence threatened to break his humanity. Instead, Betts used the time to turn himself into a poet, a scholar, and an advocate for the reform of the criminal justice system.

A widely requested speaker, Betts has given lectures on topics ranging from mass incarceration to contemporary poetry and the intersection of literature and advocacy. Between his work in public defense, his years of advocacy, and Betts’ own experiences as a teenager in maximum security prisons, he is uniquely positioned to speak to the failures of the current criminal justice system and presents encouraging ideas for change. As a result of that work, President Barack Obama appointed Betts to the Coordinating Council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and, more recently, Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut appointed him to the Criminal Justice Commission, the state body responsible for hiring prosecutors in Connecticut.

Named a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2018 NEA Fellow, Betts’ poetry has long been praised. His writing has generated national attention and earned him a Soros Justice Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a Ruth Lily Fellowship, an NAACP Image Award, and New America Fellowship. Betts has been featured in The New York TimesThe New Yorker, and The Washington Post, as well as being interviewed on NPR’s Fresh AirThe Travis Smiley Show and several other national shows. He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland; an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College, where he was a Holden Fellow; and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was awarded the Israel H. Perez Prize for best student note or comment appearing in the Yale Law Journal. He is a Ph. D. in Law candidate at Yale and, as a Liman Fellow, he spent a year representing clients in the New Haven Public Defender’s Office.

Gina Dent is Associate Professor of Feminist Studies, History of Consciousness, and Legal Studies at University of California, Santa Cruz. A committed activist, scholar, and educator, Dent’s current project, Prison as a Border and Other Essays, grows out of her work as an advocate for human rights and prison abolition. She is the editor of Black Popular Culture ([1993] New York: The New Press, 1998), and author of numerous articles on race, feminism, popular culture, and visual art. Her forthcoming book Anchored to the Real: Black Literature in the Wake of Anthropology (Duke University Press) is a study of the consequences—both disabling and   productive—of social science’s role in translating black writers into American literature. Dent is the recipient of 2018-19 UC Santa Cruz Dizikes Faculty Teaching Award in the Humanities. She lectures widely and has offered courses in critical race studies, critical theory and postcolonialism, and black feminisms in Brazil (Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador and Universidade Federal Recôcavo da Bahia, Cachoeira), Colombia (Universidad Nacional de Colombia), and Sweden (Linköping   University), as well as at the European Graduate School.