Freedom Library opening at Dorsey Run Correctional Facility in Maryland. (Photo: Gioncarlo Valentine)

Press Kit

We begin with the wild belief that a book might provide wings.

Freedom Reads, founded in 2020, is a first-of-its-kind organization using literature to inspire and confront what prison does to the spirit. Freedom Reads shows up because the lives of people in prison matter. We bring beautifully handcrafted 500-book Freedom Libraries into prison cellblocks, and by doing so, bring hope and possibility to people there. Poet, lawyer, and founding CEO, Reginald Dwayne Betts, knows firsthand about the dispiriting forces of a cell. In 1996, at 16 years old, he pled guilty to carjacking and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Freedom Reads is his attempt to make sure others have access to the books that saved his life. Opening Freedom Libraries is the centerpiece of our work.

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Freedom Libraries

Freedom Libraries Across the US

38
Adult and youth prisons with Freedom Libraries and counting
312
Freedom Libraries so far
189,000+
Books shipped to readers in prisons across the US to date

Recent Media

All I can say is that I think Reginald Dwayne Betts is amazing. Everything is stacked against you when you spend your youth locked up. So many years of education and early job experiences missed. The emotional scars of eight years in confinement. The social stigma associated with being a convicted violent offender. That he’s overcome all that to help so many people blows my mind.

In the carceral world, where design isn’t typically a consideration, Freedom Reads’ libraries are a notable exception. The bookshelves don’t hang on a wall—they sit, hand-built and curved, as locus points inside a facility’s housing units.

Freedom Reads libraries transform prison spaces, filling them with inspiration and hope

When you pick up a book, [it] helps you think about what it means to be alive in the world. Prisoners need to understand their importance beyond their crimes.

Freedom Reads has brought numerous authors into prisons to meet inmates, many of whom have never met a professional writer before.

The design of the Freedom Library aims to challenge ideas around: ‘Who deserves dignity and beauty?’ and ‘Who deserves access to craft?'

The selection is broad as one would expect of any library. So there’s Sula by Toni Morrison, and works by James Baldwin, William Faulkner and Derek Walcott.

We call them freedom libraries to remind us of the urgency of it all, and we carve the shelves into curves to suggest a universe that bends toward justice.

It all started with someone — [Betts] never saw the person's face — paying it forward to a terrified teenager looking for a greater purpose.

Betts has thought out every aspect of the libraries. Not just the books, but also the reclaimed wood that will hold them.

Reginald Dwayne Betts

Founder and CEO of Freedom Reads

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer, and the Founder and CEO of Freedom Reads. He is also a 2021 MacArthur Fellow. His books include his latest work, Redaction, a collaboration with Titus Kaphar; three works of poetry – FELON, Shahid Reads His Own Palm, and Bastards of the Reagan Era; and his memoir, A Question of Freedom. In 2019, Betts won the National Magazine Award in the Essays and Criticism category for Getting Out, his New York Times Magazine essay that chronicles his journey from prison to becoming a licensed attorney. 

On a fundamental level, what feels more significant than the awards that he has won or the books that he has published is that he’s helped get six men out of prison, five of whom he served time with, and is working to get others out. Dwayne holds a J.D. from Yale Law School.

(Photo: Gioncarlo Valentine)

Contact

Freedom Reads

2666 State Street
Suite 5A

Hamden, CT 06517

Ivan J. Dominguez
Chief Communications Officer
ivan@freedomreads.org
203-200-0186

Madeline Sklar
Communications Manager
madelines@freedomreads.org
‪203-208-9123