Reginald Dwayne Betts – Felon: An American Washi Tale
The acclaimed poet-lawyer and prison reform activist confronts the abuses of the criminal justice system in a searing solo performance adapted from his American Book Award-winning poetry collection, Felon.
“Paper, perhaps surprisingly, is a key part of the prison experience. Paper gets you in and sometimes gets you free. Chasing paper on the front is the catalyst to cuffs for many; making papers – that is, parole – is the hope of freedom for others. Inside, letters from family are lifelines, earning the slang moniker “kite” and there is an edge of exhilaration when a kite is slipped into a cell by a guard during mail call or under a cell door by another prisoner.”
– excerpt from Felon
Felon: An American Washi Tale is about re-imagining paper. Through poetry, stories, and engaging with the timeless and transcendental art of paper-making, Reginald Dwayne Betts explores the experience and consequences of incarceration and his legal work to free friends that are still in prison. A solo performance that begins with the pages of a book being slid into a cell, traverses stoves made of toilet paper, kites from a father, handwritten affidavits, legal complaints, handmade paper, certificates of pardon, and 1,000 squares fashioned from the clothing of men serving life sentences, the variety of papers that reveals what is possible and burdened by prison. This reflection on the challenges of living in the shadow of mass incarceration is a story of violence, love and fatherhood. Directed by Elise Thoron, this Washi Tale moves literally and metaphorically beyond Betts’ own life, unwrapping the disturbing ways that prison touches us all.
Reginald Dwayne Betts transformed himself from a 16-year-old kid sentenced to 9 years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of the Yale Law School. He is the founder and director of Freedom Reads, a first-of-its-kind organization working to radically transform access to literature in prisons, and the author of four award-winning books including Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era, Shahid Reads His Own Palm, and the memoir A Question of Freedom. A recent collaboration at MoMA PS1 with visual artist Titus Kaphar lead to Redaction, a book of prints featuring poetry by Betts in combination with Kaphar’s etched portraits of incarcerated individuals. A recipient of a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship and 2021 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, Betts is currently working on his Ph.D. in law at Yale University, where he earned his J.D. degree.
Thanks to our community partners: GLIDE, After Innocence, Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, The CROP Organization, USF Criminal & Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice Clinics, and UnCommon Law
This performance is partially supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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