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A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prisonby R Dwayne Betts
Synopses & Reviews
The NAACP Image Award-winning author of A Question of Freedom examines the failures—and broader repercussions—of Americas broken juvenile justice system.
Over the past four decades, the prison population in America has increased by more than 500 percent, leaving more than three million people confined or under state or federal supervision. Each year, nearly 200,000 juveniles are tried, sentenced, or locked in cells with adults in America—despite an abundance of research showing that young people confined in prison are as much as 34% more likely than young people held in juvenile detention centers to later reoffend.
Dwayne Betts knows the hazards of juvenile incarceration firsthand. Arrested at age sixteen, Betts served eight years in an adult prison, coming of age behind bars. Today, Betts is free and a nationally known advocate for juvenile justice and prison reform.
In The Circumference of a Prison, Betts shapes his narrative around individuals and families whose lives were profoundly impacted by juvenile incarceration, and in this way reveals the many disastrous effects of these failed policies. But the message in The Circumference of a Prison is also one of hope, as Betts tells stories of the people and programs that are helping to change perceptions.
By setting these stories against a context of shortsighted legislation and sensationalized media reports, Betts powerfully underscores the high societal cost of our nations practice of incarcerating juveniles with adults. Timely and persuasive, The Circumference of a Prison is a crucial examination of our troubled justice system and an impassioned plea for reform from an important new voice.
At the age of 16, Betts carjacked a man, and within a matter of minutes he had committed six felonies. Sentenced to eight years in an adult prison, Betts shares his coming-of-age story, which took place in one of the worst facilities in Virginia.
A unique prison narrative that testifies to the power of books to transform a young man's life
At the age of sixteen, R. Dwayne Betts-a good student from a lower- middle-class family-carjacked a man with a friend. He had never held a gun before, but within a matter of minutes he had committed six felonies. In Virginia, carjacking is a "certifiable" offense, meaning that Betts would be treated as an adult under state law. A bright young kid, he served his nine-year sentence as part of the adult population in some of the worst prisons in the state.
A Question of Freedom chronicles Betts's years in prison, reflecting back on his crime and looking ahead to how his experiences and the books he discovered while incarcerated would define him. Utterly alone, Betts confronts profound questions about violence, freedom, crime, race, and the justice system. Confined by cinder-block walls and barbed wire, he discovers the power of language through books, poetry, and his own pen. Above all, A Question of Freedom is about a quest for identity-one that guarantees Betts's survival in a hostile environment and that incorporates an understanding of how his own past led to the moment of his crime.
About the Author
R. Dwayne Betts is the program director for the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop; the founder of YoungMenRead, a book club for at-risk young men; and the national spokesperson for the Campaign for Juvenile Justice. A graduate of Warren Wilson College's MFA program for writers, Betts is the recipient of the Beatrice Hawley Award for his book of poetry, Shahid Reads His Own Palms, to be published in May 2010.
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