For a Bail Denied

Reginald Dwayne Betts

   for A.S. 

I won’t tell you how it ended, &his mother won’t, either, but besideme she stood & some things neitherof us could know, & now, all is lost;lost is all in what came after—the kid,& we should call him kid, call him achild, his face smooth & without historyof a razor, he shuffled—ghostly—intocourt, & let’s just call it a cauldron, &admit his nappy head made him blackerthan whatever pistol he’d held,whatever solitary awaited; the prosecutor’sbald head was black or brown (butwhen has brown not been akin to Blackhere? to abyss?) & does it matter,Black lives, when all he said of Blackboys was that they kill?—the child besidehis mother & his mother beside me &I am not his father, just a publicdefender, near starving, here, where thestate turns men, women, children intonumbers, seeking something more usefulthan a guilty plea & this boy besideme’s withering, on the brink of life &broken, & it’s all possible, because thejudge spoke & the kid saysI did it I mean I did it I mean Jesussomeone wailed & the boy’s mother yells:This ain’t justice. You can’t throw my soninto that fucking ocean. She meant jail.& we was powerless to stop it.& too damn tired to be beautiful.

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Photo of Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He is the Director of the Million Book Project, an initiative out of the Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory to radically transform the access to literature in prisons. For more than 20 years, he has used his poetry and essays to explore the world of prison and the effects of violence and incarceration on American society. The author of a memoir and three collections of poetry, his latest collection of poetry, Felon, explores the post incarceration experience and lingering consequences of a criminal record. In 2019, Betts won the National Magazine Award in the Essays and Criticism category for his New York Times Magazine essay that chronicles his journey from prison to becoming a licensed attorney. He is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2018 Emerson Fellow at New America and holds a J.D. from Yale Law School.


New York, New York

Winner of the NAACP Image Award and finalist for the 2019 Los Angeles Times Book Prize

"[Felon] pushes Betts's story forward, in verse that is nimble in its diction, tone and focus. The poems are about returning to everyday American life, but in an estranged and often painful way, as if blood were rushing into a long-pinned limb."
—Dwight Garner, New York Times

"[Felon] shows how poems can be enlisted to radically disrupt narrative.… Betts’s poems about fatherhood [are] some of the most powerful I’ve read."
—Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker

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