It was homecoming at Calvin Coolidge high school. The students in Ms. Berke’s fourth period class were loose and excited, draped in school colors, and Reginald Dwayne Betts wanted to talk about hospital rooms.
“My wife just had a baby so I’ve been in the hospital for the last few days, thinking about hospital rooms,” Betts told the class. “They can be a lot like prison, actually.” And he would know. Currently on hiatus from a prestigious Radcliffe fellowship at Harvard University to take part in our Reading Series, Betts–the author of a book of poems, Shahid Reads His Own Palm, and a memoir, A Question of Freedom–has been artfully dissecting to American prison experience since his own release from the Fairfax County Jail in 2005 (read more here, here, and especially here). And it’s that dissection that Ms. Berke’s students have been studying for the last few weeks, paging through his memoir, ready now with pointed questions on small sheets of paper that range from How do you feel about your father? to Could you ever go back to prison?