R. Dwayne Betts

R. Dwayne Betts: A question of libraries

"Libraries are essential to a vibrant society."

I think a library is essential to any vibrant society. But when I was in the second or third grade, we had to go to the library once a week. I went to the library, I didn't know what I wanted to read, wasn't really interested in Goosebump books and the other books the kids were reading.

The librarian showed me this set of encyclopedias. These were sports encyclopedias. So I was in third or fourth grade and I knew who George Mikan was. I knew who the Minneapolis Lakers were. I knew who Dave Bing was. I read all these fascinating stories.

One I still remember is Dave Bing used to shoot baskets in like a cup, like a drinking cup that had the bottom took out of it. And when you read about how somebody else overcame... or the fact that he had to wrap his shoes up in newspapers.

So I would read these stories and they pushed me, they compelled me, but they also gave me ideas about how it could be in the world. So that's how I first learned that books were more powerful even than my teachers.

Then, when I was sixteen, I car-jacked somebody. It was the worst decision I made in my life. I got arrested, plead guilty and was sentenced to eight and a half years. I came of age through books, through literacy.

I'm currently a Soros Justice Fellow and I'm working on another book. And this book will talk about the policies that led to the rise of incarceration of young people in prisons in the United States. And really how prison stretches far beyond the gates of the prison wall. It stretches to more people than we even recognize. It stretches to librarians. Nobody ever thinks about the cost of sanity and the sacrifice that a lot of librarians make by going inside an institution to work.

I think when we start to understand the huge price that's paid some people will start to make better decisions about the crime they commit and I think our policies will become better.

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Book Title: 

A Question of Freedom