Saturday, August 24, 2013

5 Questions with Mr. Dwayne Betts

Some may recall the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Mr. Dwayne Betts' book, A Question of Freedom. I had some questions at the end, and I decided to email Mr. Betts. His answers provide very interesting material to think about after you read the book. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

HF: What audience did you hope would read your book, A Question of Freedom, and why?

MR. DB:  Not sure people write with audiences in mind. About 600,000 people live in DC. Say I just want 10%. Already that's a number most poets will never see for a single book. But let's say I imagine 60,000 people are interested - now will I begin to look at my audience based on race? On class? Based on geography? Already it's hopeless, and I've yet to consider age, sex, whether or not they understand how awesome Tracy Chapman is. Audience, to me, is a gift. You write what you want and maybe you have a few people in mind, friends, colleagues - but mostly I'm writing for me. Selfish as that sounds.

HF: Which was worse: how you felt while in prison, or the physicality of being in prison?

MR. DB: Probably both, but then that wouldn't be answering your question. Let's say how I felt. The physicality, I held up well. Mentally though, prison was a drain.

HF: You now have a book of poetry out; did you write it while in prison? If not, was some of it inspired by your experience there? 

MR. DB: I wrote the poetry after prison. It's hard to say what inspired the poems. Prison. Freedom. My fascination with four leaf clovers. A few poems are just out of anger, one out of love. One because Terrence Johnson killed himself. There is a poem driven by the notion of lifting weighs. One because of George Herbert's "Prayer." I wish I had a better answer but really the poems come from breathing and usually there is no rhyme or reason to the individual breath. Maybe.

HF: Did you ever feel that some of the people you met in prison deserved a less severe sentence, particularly the younger ones?

MR. DB: Most people deserved shorter sentences. The sentences men and women get in the United States are mostly absurd and mostly demonstrate the insanity of our system. I know people with 30,40 years for non homicide and non rape offenses. For robbery. There are people with life for non violent offenses. More than that the sentences are often arbitrary. 30 years in one case becomes 10 in another. The Supreme Court recently said men can't be given mandatory life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles and some of these men, when they went back to court to be re sentenced, were sentenced to 60 years without the possibility of parole. That's obnoxious. Fortunately, some state appeals courts have pushed back on that - but not all. And sadly what I've said doesn't scratch the surface.

HF: Are there things in the outside world that remind you of the time that you were in prison?

MR. DB: Everything reminds me of prison, if I let it. Some things you don't forget, friends still incarcerated being one. So my freedom reminds me of their confinement. I'm going to law school; there is no authentic way for me to think about the law and not think about prison. I get letters from folks. Anyway, prison is a kind of echo that sometimes gets faint, so faint that I cannot hear it. Then, it shouts and I'm reminded it was always present.

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