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Poet, lawyer, former convict to present annual WCSU lecture

image of Reginald Dwayne Betts
Reginald Dwayne Betts

DANBURY, Conn. — A convicted carjacker who is now an acclaimed poet and a lawyer with a Yale degree will deliver a lecture as the 2019 Macricostas Speaker at Western Connecticut State University on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019.

Reginald Dwayne Betts will discuss his years in Virginia maximum security prisons, which positioned him to speak to the failures of the current criminal justice system and present encouraging ideas for change. He will also discuss the connection between literacy and advocacy, as well as his own poetry.

Now a New Haven resident, Betts was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Coordinating Council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Gov. Ned Lamont named him to the Criminal Justice Commission, the state body responsible for hiring prosecutors in Connecticut.

Betts’ third book of poetry, “Felons,” which examines prison as a force that shapes lives even after release, is scheduled to be published on Oct. 15. 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 Times, The New Yorker and the Washington Post.

In 2018, he was named both a Guggenheim Fellow and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland, an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College and a J.D. from Yale Law School. 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.

Before that, Betts was sentenced to nine years in prison for carjacking when he was 16. As he writes in “A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison,” he endured solitary confinement and constant violence, but found a way to connect with his humanity. Today, in addition to his writing, he advocates for criminal justice reforms.

“We selected Reginald Dwayne Betts as the speaker for this year’s Macricostas Speaker Series because he embodies the values that Deno Macricostas has evoked in his life: Success after difficult beginnings, and a commitment education and justice,” said Dr. Michelle Brown, dean of the Macricostas School of Arts and Sciences at WCSU. “Our students and the community will benefit tremendously as the work of these two educational leaders converge.”

The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24, in the conference center of the Searle A. Pinney Residence Hall on the university’s Westside campus, 43 Lake Ave. Extension, Danbury.

The lecture is sponsored by the Macricostas Family Foundation, the university’s most generous supporter, resulting in a scholarship fund, aid for student research, several lecture series, and the naming of the Macricostas School of Arts and Sciences. This endowment has ensured that innumerable students have access to Western Connecticut State University’s academic opportunities with a minimum of debt.



Western Connecticut State University changes lives by providing all students with a high quality education that fosters their growth as individuals, scholars, professionals, and leaders in a global society. Our vision: To be widely recognized as a premier public university with outstanding teachers and scholars who prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.