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Meet the attorney fighting for justice reform through poetry

For revealing the justice system’s failures in a completely new way, Reginald Dwayne Betts is one of our Most Creative People in Business for 2020.

Meet the attorney fighting for justice reform through poetry
[Photo: Mamadi Doumbouya]

Reginald Dwayne Betts published his third volume of poetry, Felon, to the kinds of reviews last fall that writers dream of. The poems themselves, however, were born out of the nightmare he experienced for more than eight years as a prisoner after being convicted, at age 16, of carjacking. Following his 2005 release, Betts earned a BA and an MFA, published a memoir, earned a law degree from Yale, and worked as a public defender. Felon illuminates the inequalities of the criminal justice system by turning its own language against itself. Four poems feature redacted sections of legal documents filed on behalf of incarcerated people seeking relief because they could not afford bail. “These [court] documents are the foundation of our legal system,” Betts says. “They are written in obfuscating legalese. Poetry is the opposite of inaccessible, if it’s done well.”

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About the author

Jay Woodruff is a senior editor at Fast Company. After helping launch the quarterly DoubleTake, he joined Esquire and later held senior editorial positions at Entertainment Weekly and oversaw digital at Maxim, Blender and Stuff

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