Skip to main content

Former prisoner to discuss poems, memoir at ASU

January 20, 2010

When he was 16, and an honors student in high school, R. Dwayne Betts made a decision that cost him nine years of his life.

Betts took part in a carjacking – what he calls the 30 minutes that changed his life – was tried as an adult, and spent nine years in jail. While incarcerated, he read voraciously, wrote poems and sent letters to poets whose work he admired.

Betts, now program director for the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop, and the author of the memoir “A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison,” will discuss his writing at the Piper Writers House at Arizona State University at 2 p.m., Feb. 3.

The Public Craft Q & A is sponsored by the Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Betts will also visit Adobe Mountain School, a juvenile correction facility in North Phoenix, on Thursday, Feb. 4 as part of an outreach program coordinated by the Young Writers Program at ASU.

Betts has published poems in Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review, Cimarron Review, Guernica and Poet Lore, among other magazines. His collection of poetry, “Shahid Reads His Own Palm,” winner of the 2009 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books, is forthcoming.

After his release from prison, Betts received an internship at the Atlantic Monthly; a Transfer Academic Excellence Scholarship to the University of Maryland, where he was a commencement speaker at his own graduation; and a Holden Scholarship to the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, where he is currently completing his graduate work.

Betts has spoken at congressional briefings and on panels with distinguished judges, lawyers and advocates on the issues revolving around juvenile justice reform and rehabilitation. He is currently the national spokesman for the Campaign for Youth Justice.

For more information about the event, contact the Piper Center for Creative Writing, (480) 965-6018, or

Note: Betts will also be appearing at the following on and off campus events:

Noon, Feb. 3:
Public Presentation, “Juvenile Offenders in Adult Prisons: What’s Wrong with That?”
Armstrong Hall, room 105, Tempe campus
(Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law)

7 p.m., Feb, 3:
Public Reading and Booksigning
Changing Hands Bookstore
6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe