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A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison

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A powerful debut memoir from a published poet and emerging writer. 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 Dwayne would be treated as an A powerful debut memoir from a published poet and emerging writer. 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 Dwayne would be treated as an adult under state law. A bright young kid, weighing only 126 pounds- not enough to fill out a medium T-shirt -he served his eight-year sentence as part of the adult population in some of the worst prisons in the state. A Question of Freedom is a coming-of-age story, with the unique twist that it takes place in prison. Utterly alone-and with the growing realization that he really is not going home any time soon-Dwayne confronts profound questions about violence, freedom, crime, race, and the justice system. Above all, A Question of Freedom is about a quest for identity-one that guarantees Dwayne's survival in a hostile environment and that incorporates an understanding of how his own past led to the moment of his crime.


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A powerful debut memoir from a published poet and emerging writer. 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 Dwayne would be treated as an A powerful debut memoir from a published poet and emerging writer. 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 Dwayne would be treated as an adult under state law. A bright young kid, weighing only 126 pounds- not enough to fill out a medium T-shirt -he served his eight-year sentence as part of the adult population in some of the worst prisons in the state. A Question of Freedom is a coming-of-age story, with the unique twist that it takes place in prison. Utterly alone-and with the growing realization that he really is not going home any time soon-Dwayne confronts profound questions about violence, freedom, crime, race, and the justice system. Above all, A Question of Freedom is about a quest for identity-one that guarantees Dwayne's survival in a hostile environment and that incorporates an understanding of how his own past led to the moment of his crime.

30 review for A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Based on journals kept while in prison, this is a powerful chronicle of eight years in prison, beginning at the age of 16. In Betts's words, "This book is a confession of what it was like to be in prison. It is about hoping that there can be more moments when people who have scarred themselves, their families and society can be given the space to redeem themselves. It is the story of the thirty minutes it took for me to shatter my life into the memory of one cell after another, and the cost of w Based on journals kept while in prison, this is a powerful chronicle of eight years in prison, beginning at the age of 16. In Betts's words, "This book is a confession of what it was like to be in prison. It is about hoping that there can be more moments when people who have scarred themselves, their families and society can be given the space to redeem themselves. It is the story of the thirty minutes it took for me to shatter my life into the memory of one cell after another, and the cost of walking away from a bad idea a minute too late." Betts makes and accepts no excuses for the act that resulted in his incarceration, choosing to represent only what he knows for himself. And in that representation he offers an understated indictment of a system that is at best inequitable, at worst institutionalized racism, and always built on fear.

  2. 5 out of 5

    William

    This is a different kind of prison memoir. Literary, lyrical and philosophical. R. Dwayne Betts was an above average student in the lower middle class close-in Washington D.C. suburb of Suitland Md. Somehow one day he thought it would be a good idea to go over to Virginia and carjack a sleeping white man. He really never explains exactly why he did it other than the impulsiveness of youth. Betts was 16 years old and carried a gun in the commission of this crime. Betts doesn't concentrate of the This is a different kind of prison memoir. Literary, lyrical and philosophical. R. Dwayne Betts was an above average student in the lower middle class close-in Washington D.C. suburb of Suitland Md. Somehow one day he thought it would be a good idea to go over to Virginia and carjack a sleeping white man. He really never explains exactly why he did it other than the impulsiveness of youth. Betts was 16 years old and carried a gun in the commission of this crime. Betts doesn't concentrate of the crime nor the daily injustices meted out by the prison system. None of the daily gore and degradation one would expect in a prison story. What he does is serve up an indictment against a juvenile justice system, one of the only in the industrialized world, that send its juveniles, kids barely out of puberty, into prisons with adults. That everyone knows that such a system can never rehabilitate but only create hardened professional inmate/criminals is a given. That 98 percent of these child prisoners are Black and poor is also a given. How can we warehouse children, some who are in for non-violent drug crimes, in institutions that provide only hopelessness and despair and call ourselves a civilized society? Betts elevates this book from the typical by writing in a unique, poetic voice. It was through writing and books that he was able to transcend his prison life. He asks question of himself and the reader. How could he have allowed himself to be put behind bars to grow into adulthood in prison. How could we as a society have in place a clearly and unequivocally racist system that locks up black and poor children with adults.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    I was intrigued about the author after hearing an interview with him on NPR. I visit inmates on a regular basis as a pastor, and found something compelling in his interview. I was not as enchanted with the book. I would say it shows moments of his being a poet, and a word smith, but I found myself thinking the book needed to be edited better - tightened and shortened. He jumps around in time in a manner that can be confusing, and sometimes a chapter or a story seem to have no point to them. He d I was intrigued about the author after hearing an interview with him on NPR. I visit inmates on a regular basis as a pastor, and found something compelling in his interview. I was not as enchanted with the book. I would say it shows moments of his being a poet, and a word smith, but I found myself thinking the book needed to be edited better - tightened and shortened. He jumps around in time in a manner that can be confusing, and sometimes a chapter or a story seem to have no point to them. He does explain this latter complaint a bit at the end of the book - it was how he experienced prison and the story isn't all comprehensible as he admits. Yet, I wanted to know, how and why he got the gun, and I wanted to know that somehow his life had a redeeming value. But he is young and there is more to the story to be lived.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Selbst

    A powerful memoir by a black man who, at age 16, in a terrible moment, carjacked a man and in the process, committed six felonies. Treated as an adult offender, he spends nine years in the Virginia prison system. Fortunately for him, he learns from his crimes and incarceration, and survives.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Eisenberg

    A Question of Freedom is a herky-jerky read. Author R Dwayne Betts often has difficulty staying on target for the duration of a paragraph, let alone a chapter, thus the book flits about from non-sequitur to non-sequitur. But the book has value as a read. Here are the main takeaways: 1. Prison sucks. 2. You can be a genuinely good person with a track record of good behavior, on a path to success. You can see yourself as a good person and a good student, the last person in the world who would end u A Question of Freedom is a herky-jerky read. Author R Dwayne Betts often has difficulty staying on target for the duration of a paragraph, let alone a chapter, thus the book flits about from non-sequitur to non-sequitur. But the book has value as a read. Here are the main takeaways: 1. Prison sucks. 2. You can be a genuinely good person with a track record of good behavior, on a path to success. You can see yourself as a good person and a good student, the last person in the world who would end up in jail. But if you commit a crime in 5 minutes of teenaged insanity, it can cost you 9 years of your life. 2a. This is more true for a black man than a white man 2b. Prison is filled with black men. Yes, there are whites and hispanics and Asians, but it is filled with black men. 4. You cannot conceive of how awful prison is until you are there. Prison sucks. 4a. Yet there are positive moments. Not many, but they are there. To wit: "One day I was standing in the property room. A dude stood in line in front of me reading a book in Spanish. I didn't ask him his name, just if he was Hispanic. He told me no. Told me that he'd taught himself. It was like walking into a little miracle. Even though every day I was seeing things that I wouldn't write home about, things that weren't inspiring me in any way, there were moments that made me pause. This young black dude had taught himself Spanish because he wanted to learn. I found those moments when I walked to the rec yard or to the cafeteria. They were few and far between but I found them." 5. Prison sucks. It's not the best book. You don't have to read it. But it is important that Mr. Betts got out of jail and wrote it, and thus I'm happy to have read it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Angela Ryser Bahling

    This memoir was recommended by the dean of students at my daughter's university. She gave it such glowing praise; I had high hopes. Unfortunately, as other reviewers have stated, this memoir could have benefited from better editing. The story was told without regard to chronology and was a bit confusing when people who went by the same names were discussed. The underlying sense of overcoming one's environment was very strong and spoke to the ability to rise above and the importance of varied rea This memoir was recommended by the dean of students at my daughter's university. She gave it such glowing praise; I had high hopes. Unfortunately, as other reviewers have stated, this memoir could have benefited from better editing. The story was told without regard to chronology and was a bit confusing when people who went by the same names were discussed. The underlying sense of overcoming one's environment was very strong and spoke to the ability to rise above and the importance of varied reading to attain a broader world view.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I recently heard an interview with this author on NPR and was inspired to read this 2009 memoir of his years in prison. He is a beautiful and perceptive writer and I was alternately horrified, inspired, and saddened at his story. He has now published several books of poetry and is a student at Yale Law School. He was able to take a bad mistake and somehow learn and grow from it in very harsh circumstances. I hope to read more by him in the future.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

    What I wanted was a personal, in-depth look at the problems with the juvenile court/prison system. What I got was a self-entitled, almost whiney complaint about how he did something wrong and got punished for it. I got halfway then skipped to the end but still didn't find much redeeming in it. An important topic, but terrible writing. What I wanted was a personal, in-depth look at the problems with the juvenile court/prison system. What I got was a self-entitled, almost whiney complaint about how he did something wrong and got punished for it. I got halfway then skipped to the end but still didn't find much redeeming in it. An important topic, but terrible writing.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Doug Levandowski

    It avoids the expected platitudes and gets to the author's experience without cliché. On reread, it's even better! My ignorance of some of the terms (prison vs. jail) got in my way on the first read and it seemed non-linear. That's on me. It avoids the expected platitudes and gets to the author's experience without cliché. On reread, it's even better! My ignorance of some of the terms (prison vs. jail) got in my way on the first read and it seemed non-linear. That's on me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Martha Snyder

    I was irritated reading through most of this book by the lack of organization. I see other reviewers shared by view. I started skimming about a quarter way in. But I was still intrigued by the author's viewpoint. Clearly Mr. Betts is in love with words and lets them spew forth as they will. About three quarters of the way through the book I came to the conclusion that much of it was "stream of conscious" and the disorganization may have been intentional. Mr. Betts may have been showing that thro I was irritated reading through most of this book by the lack of organization. I see other reviewers shared by view. I started skimming about a quarter way in. But I was still intrigued by the author's viewpoint. Clearly Mr. Betts is in love with words and lets them spew forth as they will. About three quarters of the way through the book I came to the conclusion that much of it was "stream of conscious" and the disorganization may have been intentional. Mr. Betts may have been showing that throughout his eight years in prison, he didn't know what to think. He couldn't organize his thoughts. His brain was firing in all sorts of directions just trying to do his time and survive. That makes me wonder how many others in prison are lost, wandering in their thoughts and what our society can do to help. Clearly books were his savior as well as the high value upbringing he had from his mother. I think we as a society are missing a great opportunity in our prison system. These people are captive audiences and we should take full advantage of that. Constructive activities like books and classes, whether accredited or not, should be readily available to all. Our fellow incarcerated citizens have brains and bodies being wasted. Restriction of freedom is a huge punishment, we should find a way to offer learning, self esteem, and recognition of potential to all inmates. If they decide not to avail themselves of opportunities offered, ok, but it should not stop us from trying our best. Mr. Betts shows the current system does very little substantive to help.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Granzyk

    What I found compelling in Betts’ account of his crime and punishment was the balance he presents between identifying how unjust the system is, with his personal acceptance of accountability for the impulsive act and anger that led him to commit a crime that damaged not just him, and his victim, but other members of Betts’ family, particularly his mother. The book not only shows us what it is like to face the challenges of prison life, but is a caution to others of what it means to lose control What I found compelling in Betts’ account of his crime and punishment was the balance he presents between identifying how unjust the system is, with his personal acceptance of accountability for the impulsive act and anger that led him to commit a crime that damaged not just him, and his victim, but other members of Betts’ family, particularly his mother. The book not only shows us what it is like to face the challenges of prison life, but is a caution to others of what it means to lose control and the high price that is paid--the day-to-day navigating of the paradoxical need for companionship and protection within the prison world and the challenge of avoiding physical violence that can be visited upon an inmate or that can result in more time added to a sentence if he retaliates. In the end you find yourself not only confirmed in your belief that the prison system is indicative of the injustice in America, stacked as it is against black offenders, but ultimately inspired by Betts’ maturation in prison, his rising above self-defeating resentment and anger to educate himself and emerge as an important voice for anyone who cares about the pursuit of a just America. It is well worth the effort to adjust to Betts’ story telling style, where reflection predominates over detailed narrative at times.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Devin Vanderpool

    Everyone should read this book. In particular, anyone who has anything to do with the judicial system should read this book. This is the story of an intelligent young man who spent many of his formative years for a felony he admitted to committing. (And if you don't think he is intelligent, he fought for the right to take the bar exam to become a lawyer and now has a Ph.D. from Yale Law school.) This book will make you uncomfortable. That's good for you. It sure made me uncomfortable. But it mad Everyone should read this book. In particular, anyone who has anything to do with the judicial system should read this book. This is the story of an intelligent young man who spent many of his formative years for a felony he admitted to committing. (And if you don't think he is intelligent, he fought for the right to take the bar exam to become a lawyer and now has a Ph.D. from Yale Law school.) This book will make you uncomfortable. That's good for you. It sure made me uncomfortable. But it made me think. I've always tended to side with maximum punishment for crimes. But I read this book because of cherished memories of my students at the alternative school. And now I wonder if prison would have helped them at all or if it would just hurt them more. Mental health is important. Anger management skills are important. Teaching children a love for learning is important. These are the things that will juveniles out of prison. And if you think race issues in America are fake? Read this book. It opened my eyes to a lot that I didn't see because, yes, I have white privilege. I hope to one day meet this author. I'll be thinking about this one for a long time. Thank you Dr. Betts, for opening my eyes.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Johannah A Classy Rebel Reader

    What can save a man, once he finds himself in prison? “A Question of Freedom,” is Dwayne Bett’s firsthand account of being in the prison system at the age of 16. We follow Betts through a nine-year prison sentence, we see him wrestle with identity, survival, religion and prejudice. See how isolation, books and writing saved a man’s life. (Book 18 of 100) This book was chosen by “The Best Book Club Ever!” to read before the 51st Annual UND Writers Conference. Sadly, the conference had to be cance What can save a man, once he finds himself in prison? “A Question of Freedom,” is Dwayne Bett’s firsthand account of being in the prison system at the age of 16. We follow Betts through a nine-year prison sentence, we see him wrestle with identity, survival, religion and prejudice. See how isolation, books and writing saved a man’s life. (Book 18 of 100) This book was chosen by “The Best Book Club Ever!” to read before the 51st Annual UND Writers Conference. Sadly, the conference had to be canceled due to “the virus that should not be named”! This book wants you to question how the prison system operates. I think we NEED to change it. The foul living conditions and abuse is something no person should endure. As a society, we need to reach at-risk students at a young age to ensure they DO NOT end up in prison. I was surprised how some prisoners took it upon themselves to be mentors to younger inmates and looked out for their wellbeing. I give this book a 3/5-star rating. While this story has raw truth, it was a bit disorganized, making it difficult to read at times. If you like reading true stories about prison and people turning their life around, this is for you.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kelly J

    This book hits home, it gives me a glimpse, and understanding to what a family member lives through daily. Mr. Betts paints an image of a young man who made a mistake and choice to take back his life. He has painted an image of what it was like for a young man in prison, in that image he shows us what it is like for the older gentlemen in prison, and how our youth is getting more time than necessary for a bad choice. How our justice system looks at the color of a person’s skin, their living envi This book hits home, it gives me a glimpse, and understanding to what a family member lives through daily. Mr. Betts paints an image of a young man who made a mistake and choice to take back his life. He has painted an image of what it was like for a young man in prison, in that image he shows us what it is like for the older gentlemen in prison, and how our youth is getting more time than necessary for a bad choice. How our justice system looks at the color of a person’s skin, their living environment and then their crime when sentencing. I wish Mr. Betts the best and to thank him for allowing us inside the justice system especially the parts of that system we don’t see first-hand unless you are on the inside doing time. Full book review can be found at: https://proudbookjunky.blogspot.com/2...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dan Young

    2 out of 5 stars. Perspective without insight. While the author’s story may be an incredible journey of personal discovery this memoir doesn’t ever move beyond setting. There’s nothing really to take way than the premise that is written on the cover. The author is also a published poet and that style of language shows (and potentially detracts from this experience. And while there are moments of beautiful writing the repetition of those phrases and moments weakens their use.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    I look forward to reading his poetry. Possibly a little longer than it needs to be, this memoir is a good look at systemic racism, the prison system, and what it's like to live years in prison. It's a hard focus on how we lock brown boys up for years with no resources to help themselves. I look forward to reading his poetry. Possibly a little longer than it needs to be, this memoir is a good look at systemic racism, the prison system, and what it's like to live years in prison. It's a hard focus on how we lock brown boys up for years with no resources to help themselves.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Graemme Boone

    Excellent book! There are so many people who have been through so many things. Jail/prison is just one of them. Thank you Dwayne for your book, your testimony. Pass this on to people you know have been in jail or are heading that way. Fantastic read!!

  18. 4 out of 5

    David

    I heard about this book when Mr. Betts appeared on Econtalk with Russ Roberts. The conversation was awesome and I hunted down the book and was not disappointed. A deeply felt and emotional journey that I am glad Mr. Betts was willing to share. Now I have to hunt down the rest of his poetry.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Traci at The Stacks

    This is one of the better prison memoirs I’ve read, though the genre often leaves much give be desired for me. Betts writes beautifully. The book loses direction throughout, which feels more like and editing issue than writing, but overall it’s good.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Edmund Davis-Quinn

    I really do want to finish this but ended up reading a lot of other stuff while it was checked out. Up to Chapter 10, page 62. We need to do so much better with our criminal justice system.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    While Betts story was interesting, I didn't find his writing style engaging. While Betts story was interesting, I didn't find his writing style engaging.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Muhemed Masika

    Then there's no question Then there's no question

  23. 5 out of 5

    Penelope

    Gave me hope .

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne Andersen

    A description of a prison system grounded in ignorance and cruelty of which all Americans should be ashamed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Scot

    This is a familiar cautionary tale: R. Dwayne Betts, a young man of color from the Maryland suburbs of DC, ends up in prison and struggles to survive, with his commitment to reading and ongoing intellectual curiosity being the crucial factors that combine with luck to get him through the ordeal and out of the system, leaving many others less fortunate behind in that sad and terrible place. One of the benefits of the book is its newness: this is a version of the story for 21st century youth, this This is a familiar cautionary tale: R. Dwayne Betts, a young man of color from the Maryland suburbs of DC, ends up in prison and struggles to survive, with his commitment to reading and ongoing intellectual curiosity being the crucial factors that combine with luck to get him through the ordeal and out of the system, leaving many others less fortunate behind in that sad and terrible place. One of the benefits of the book is its newness: this is a version of the story for 21st century youth, this young man was a teen with an alarming (to me) adolescent sense of entitlement many of today’s young people share. However, what is a bit unusual in this variant of the tale is that Betts did not actually discover his love of reading in prison, he already had it, along with a strong sense of moral integrity and middle class experience regularly modeled by his mother. He had always been a gifted honor student and had apparently read many thoughtful and eloquent writings of black men on their suffering in America (such as the work of James Baldwin) or even the indignities and horrors they faced in prison (such as in the work of Nathan McCall) before he decided to try his hand at carjacking, got caught, and ended up being sent to prison in Virginia for nine years at the age of 16. In a way that he doesn’t make clear enough, he had all the prompts prior to his crimes warning him away from such a route, prompts that many other young black men in America do not always receive, but he just somehow thought he was special and would not get caught, or if caught, would be forgiven with some serious scolding. I would have liked him to reflect on this more at the work’s end and therefore arrived at some coherent appraisal of how much blame was his alone, how much that of different institutional and social forces, and how much shared. The memoir starkly conveys what sort of a “wake up call” arrest and a prison sentence can provide. Matter of fact, harrowing encounters and events are recalled in roughly chronological order. It was in solitary confinement in prison that Betts found deeper resonance and meaning in books, and he uses his time behind prison walls to explore options available in moral and religious philosophy, in cross cultural communication, and most fundamentally, in basic survival. Betts has a new book of poetry coming out this year, and from what passages he offers here, I do think his poetry will be worth a look. I appreciate that this book does not blame everyone else and make the narrator out to be a downtrodden victim or a swaggering anti-hero. He has been featured in the Atlantic, the NAACP has given him an Image Award, and I suspect he is poised to become a go to person for many media commentaries on how best to deal with crime among young African American males. I agree that education is essential, and a love of reading and intellectual curiosity must be promoted in a proactive (rather than reactive) fashion. I do hope he will think through some more specific ways to reach the young men coming up in the next age cohort behind him, and speak out more forcefully if aspects of what is celebrated as gangsta chic in popular music, film, and gaming deserve any comment or condemnation from the likes of him.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie Vogelpohl

    Powerful and poignant. I would recommend this book to any of my students, and to any interested in the rights of incarcerated persons.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Connor McDonald

    A sincere narrative that elicits an emotional desire for further reform of our juvenile and criminal justice systems. Betts’s account of the eight and a half years he spent in prison for carjacking depicts the dead time, the obstacle, and ultimately the nightmare that the American prison system creates for the self-rehabilitation and self-redemption of incarcerees – specifically in regards to our troubled youth.By the age of eighteen, he writes: “I’d been shuffled between a county jail, a prison A sincere narrative that elicits an emotional desire for further reform of our juvenile and criminal justice systems. Betts’s account of the eight and a half years he spent in prison for carjacking depicts the dead time, the obstacle, and ultimately the nightmare that the American prison system creates for the self-rehabilitation and self-redemption of incarcerees – specifically in regards to our troubled youth.By the age of eighteen, he writes: “I’d been shuffled between a county jail, a prison intake center and three prisons,” one of those being the recently opened Red Onion State Prison, “deemed the warehouse for Virginia’s most violent and dangerous criminals,” a transfer that resulted from the state making its classification system more disposed to getting new cells filled (pp. 184, 161).Of these moments, Betts states “I have lived things I will not recover from” (176). Things that cannot be told haunt the empty space of the pages, and as a reader I found myself left to ruminate with Betts on the existence of a fellow inmate: I ask myself if it matters what he was locked up for, if society really cares about the blood that’s spilled when black boys turn the streets they ran as a child into a battlefield, if anyone understands that we don’t forget our victims. (208) Undeniably, violence is a reality with victims– and my appeal to reformation may seem callow without having suffered the trauma of this reality, but reading Betts has encouraged my hope that, even if confronted by violence, I would have the strength to desire a conception of justice that itself emphasizes hope, in rehabilitation, rather than retribution and the production of further victims. Especially in the case of sentencing juveniles, I firmly agree with Betts’s later statement that “we as a community and a society have to be able to imagine the best possible outcomes for our most troubled young people” (NCSL Interview). While chronologically obscure at times, and with a syntax that some might find disagreeable in the composition of a distinct and frequently profound voice, Betts’s story of emergence is one that I continue to reference.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Collins

    More an informal collection of recollections than memoir, this work reads something like a selection of blog entries related to reading and prison, only the very beginning and the very ending standing out as clearly ordered. As such, this comes across as too half-hazard an attempt at broaching questions related to youth in prison and the justice system, falling far short of the clear subtitle for the work: "A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison". The biggest problem I had in More an informal collection of recollections than memoir, this work reads something like a selection of blog entries related to reading and prison, only the very beginning and the very ending standing out as clearly ordered. As such, this comes across as too half-hazard an attempt at broaching questions related to youth in prison and the justice system, falling far short of the clear subtitle for the work: "A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison". The biggest problem I had in reading this, however, wasn't one of organization. It was the question of coming of age. More often than not, the book fails to make prison-life sound like anything more than an extended solitary stay in a library or retreat for reading, violence and injustice (or justice) on the outskirts. Beyond acknowledging that his views are wider because of what he's read, which he may have read in or out of prison, Betts also doesn't seem to (or claim to) mature as a result of his sentence. Reading this work, it's easy to forget that he's guilty of a crime, and while I don't begin to think that the nine years he served were actually deserved (at that length) for the crime he committed, any attentive reader has to at some point wonder: In all those nine years, shouldn't you be able to say why you committed the crime? After those nine years, shouldn't the resulting memoir speak to its supposed subjects of survival, maturity, and justice, moreso than the constant theme of trying to find ways to pass the time? It's possible that a clearer or more linearly organized narrative could have done Betts' story more justice. As the book stood, though, I didn't feel like the focus of the novel had any weight whatsoever beyond the close focus on Betts' personal experience. Certainly, there was little questioning or discussion of justice or maturation, beyond, again, passing time. On the whole, this was a disappointing read, and though well-written, probably not something I'd expect anyone to learn something from, or even find truly thought-provoking. Based on the writing and the experiences behind the work, I have to think that Betts would have been better served writing a novel. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this one.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

    From http://weeksnotice.blogspot.com/2010/... R. Dwayne Betts' A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (2009) is a compelling and often poetic (he is in fact a published poet) memoir of a very young African American man who was put in prison for carjacking in Virginia in the mid-1990s. He was 16 at the time and served nine years. It is a scattered book, and it moves back and forth chronologically. He plead guilty, was guilty, but dances around it: The old From http://weeksnotice.blogspot.com/2010/... R. Dwayne Betts' A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (2009) is a compelling and often poetic (he is in fact a published poet) memoir of a very young African American man who was put in prison for carjacking in Virginia in the mid-1990s. He was 16 at the time and served nine years. It is a scattered book, and it moves back and forth chronologically. He plead guilty, was guilty, but dances around it: The old head wanted to blame it on rap music, and often we wanted to blame it on racism, on the society that birthed us or on the streets that gave us the language of violence. The blame didn't work (p. 60). But when talking about his own specific crime, he never examines the moment, why he was there, and exactly what happened: "Talking to him gave me the chance to realize that there are people willing to judge me by who I have become, and not by a moment of insanity" (p. 236). This may be petty, because he suffered tremendously and for no particular purpose. He never denies the guilt, only the disproportionate nature of the punishment. The main message of the book is that prisons are set up in a way that creates failure. Redemption is hard, and over the years Betts--a very smart guy--has to work diligently to achieve it. Prisons make virtually no effort at rehabilitation, or even describe what that might look like. Betts goes through excruciating years of trying to figure himself out, and to improve himself in spite of the obstacles prisons put in front of him. It is so difficult to rehabilitate yourself that the vast majority of prisoners simply never will. But, at least, he did. And how he did so is worth reading about.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Durham

    I set a goal to not only read a particular number of books but to deviate from what I normally read. Because of my degree in Criminal Justice and adjunct teaching coupled with all the news as it relates to protesting, Ferguson, Chicago and other issues dominating the news, I chose this read. I couldn't have made a better choice. This reading was informative, touching and inspirational. I always ask the students: What is the goal of the criminal justice system? Is it to detain for wrongdoings and I set a goal to not only read a particular number of books but to deviate from what I normally read. Because of my degree in Criminal Justice and adjunct teaching coupled with all the news as it relates to protesting, Ferguson, Chicago and other issues dominating the news, I chose this read. I couldn't have made a better choice. This reading was informative, touching and inspirational. I always ask the students: What is the goal of the criminal justice system? Is it to detain for wrongdoings and keep society safe.....is it to rehabilitate and reform? Should a correctional facility educate? Are African American disproportionately confined as others? Is education the key to successfully exiting and not returning to incarceration? Should the system be revamped as it pertains to certifying youths? Will reform of the Criminal Justice system ever occur? What this book does is follow a young African American teenager, age 16, as he enters the Virginia correctional system. Just some background information: a teen and his friend engage in a number of carjackings. The youth was college bound and had never been before the system. He's certified as an adult and will spend nine years incarcerated. He never once blamed an absent father, not knowing better or anything of that nature. He veered off track and now must pay the price. Dwayne speaks frankly about his incarceration and the system. His confinement will bring a number of transfers and solitary confinement as well as accomplishments. He saw first hand how the system can devour you....he also saw how you must have a strong resolve. You will be surprised by his journey. Youthfulness was lost without a doubt .....but I am so elated that he did the time and not let the time make him bitter. I have read about his efforts since his release and encouraged others to read about him. So should you.

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