Blog

The latest from Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts, the Freedom Reads team, and our larger community, both on the inside and the outside.

Tagged with Showing Up

Changing Lives Through Literature

By Michael Byrd, Library Production Assistant
6 members of the Freedom Reads team pose for a photo around 9 wooden bookcases in a loading dock at Garden State Correctional Facility.
Freedom Reads Library Production Assistant Mike (second from right) and the Freedom Reads team with Freedom Libraries in Garden State Correctional Facility.

I have been with Freedom Reads since February of 2023. My job consists of building Freedom Libraries at our shop in Hamden, Connecticut. Working with my hands to make sure that people on the inside are able to see these beautiful wooden Freedom Libraries and run their hands along the wood that I put my hands on.

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Founder's Take: Freedom Begins With Us

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Freedom Reads Founder & CEO
6 men at Garden State Correctional Facility line up to have copies of FELON signed by Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts, who sits at a table.
Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts signs copies of his book of poetry, FELON, after performing at Garden State Correctional Facility in New Jersey.

The paradox of incarceration is that if you’ve been inside, you desperately want to believe that the time you spent in those cells matters. You understand that you did more than weep in those cells, more than endure suffering. You know that you’ve nurtured anger and then figured out how to let it go, if you’re lucky. You know that you’ve discovered ways to forgive yourself, often long before the people in the world knew your name. You know you spent more hours than you know figuring out how to apologize, and then even more hours afraid to do it. And sadly, you know the world holds that work in slight regard.

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Inside Literary Prize Tour Leg Two: North Dakota State Penitentiary, MCF-Faribault, and MCF-Shakopee

By Steven Parkhurst, Communications Manager at Freedom Reads
Freedom Reads Communications Manager Steven Parkhurst takes a selfie with the sign outside of Minnesota Correctional Facility - Shakopee.
Freedom Reads Communications Manager Steven Parkhurst outside of Minnesota Correctional Facility - Shakopee.

Taven, young by any measure whether Inside or out, sat preoccupied in the corner of the library turned poetry stage turned polling station at North Dakota State Penitentiary (NDSP). He was scheduled for a parole hearing on the day Freedom Reads arrived to bring acclaimed poet Roger Bonair-Agard and a handful of Inside Literary Prize ballots to vote on books. I gave him a knowing handshake. I, too, needed a distraction on the day I went up before the parole board that granted me freedom after serving seven days short of 30 years on the Inside. He reminded me of the 17-year-old version of myself who cared less about books and more about surviving the rest of my life in a place that looked like anything but a library. He showed up for our event though, the way Freedom Reads shows up for people incarcerated, and the way I now have shown up to 25 prisons since being released just 17 months ago. I gave him a ton of credit.

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Celebrating Freedom: My Journey with Freedom Reads

By David Perez Jr, Program Coordinator at Freedom Reads
David (lower left), Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts (lower right), and Freedom Reads Program Coordinator Steven Parkhurst (lower middle) with men at Arizona State Prison Complex - Yuma during the Inside Literary Prize tour.
David (lower left), Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts (lower right), and Freedom Reads Program Coordinator Steven Parkhurst (lower middle) with men at Arizona State Prison Complex - Yuma during the Inside Literary Prize tour.

I stumbled upon Freedom Reads Founder Reginald Dwayne Betts’ book, FELON, in a random room at Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield, Connecticut. I talked about the book with my now colleague, Steven Parkhurst, while we were both on the inside. Steve talked about potentially speaking with Dwayne soon and I talked about what amazing work Freedom Reads was doing. We both talked about how thrilling it would be to work for an organization like that.

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Founder's Take: The Most Absolutely Free Thing I've Ever Done

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads
Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts performs his one-man show, FELON: An American Washi Tale, at Buckingham Correctional Center on March 4, 2024.
Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts performs his one-man show, FELON: An American Washi Tale, at Buckingham Correctional Center on March 4, 2024.

This is what they cannot tell you to expect: that you’ll return. No, that’s not true. They predict that you will return in handcuffs. Never as it happened on March 4, 2024. That morning, I returned as a poet who would perform for them as if the men inside were a Broadway audience; I returned as someone who’d served time with them, as a lawyer who’d been trained in the cells they knew too well.

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Freedom Reads Brings Literary Performances to Rhode Island Prisons

By Steven Parkhurst, Program Coordinator at Freedom Reads
Freedom Reads Program Coordinator Steven Parkhurst outside of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections John J. Moran facility.
Freedom Reads Program Coordinator Steven Parkhurst outside of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections John J. Moran facility.

Freedom Reads put on literary events at Rhode Island prisons for the first time last week. Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts performed his one-man show, FELON: An American Washi Tale. Following the show, Dwayne and Freedom Reads Program Coordinator Steven Parkhurst, who served over 26 years at Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institution (ACI), had a wide-ranging conversation about the experience of incarceration and the importance of literature and literary events in transforming the lives of incarcerated people.

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Reflections on My First Time Back

By Steven Parkhurst, Program Coordinator at Freedom Reads

Tyler Sperrazza, the Chief Production Officer at Freedom Reads, and I pulled our 26-foot Penske moving truck full of Freedom Libraries into the staff parking lot of the Maine Correctional Center, just a couple dozen feet from the sally-port that gave entrance to the prison grounds. We had just driven 240 miles from Hamden, Connecticut, to Windham, Maine, and my heart was pounding.

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Founder’s Take: Why I Return

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads
The first ever reading of Reginald Dwayne Betts and Titus Kafar’s Redaction ocurred at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. “I let them be the first to hear some of this new work; they said the work was funky enough.”
The first ever reading of Reginald Dwayne Betts and Titus Kafar’s Redaction ocurred at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. “I let them be the first to hear some of this new work; they said the work was funky enough.”

Twenty-six years ago today, on December 8, 1996, I confessed to carjacking a man. In some ways, everything that I’ve done since then has been moving towards a kind of amends. Sometimes books are the opposite of violence, opening up the possibility for another tomorrow. I started Freedom Reads, not just to place beautiful, handcrafted wooden shelves with five hundred of the best books you can find on prison housing units all across this country, I started it to return to prisons with something more than the violence that first brought me there. 

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