Shahid Reads His Own Palm by Reginald Dwayne Betts

August 2018

Reading List


Gripping and terrifying, eloquent and heart wrenching, this debut collection delves into hellish territory: prison life. Soulful poems somberly capture time-bending experiences and the survivalist mentality needed to live a contradiction, confronting both daily torment and one’s illogical fear of freedom. (Alice James Books, June 2010)



“For most Americans, mass incarceration is an abstraction sometimes quantified on the news and in documentaries with graphs and large figures. For others, it’s an American crisis in need of committed reform efforts. For 2.2 million other Americans, mass incarceration is a catchall phrase inadequate in describing the albatross of their everyday life. As a Yale educated lawyer and criminal justice advocate, Reginald Dwayne Betts has evidenced himself as one who understands mass incarceration as a national crisis. With his award-winning debut poetry collection Shahid Reads His Own Palm, Betts also reveals himself among the too-many millions who own intimate knowledge of living behind the walls. Betts recalls the world of count times and chow times and yard calls and shanks and kites. There are poems in which he reflects on the details of the carjacking that landed him as a teen behind the walls, a moving poem in which he imagines his mother receiving the call that he’s been arrested. There’s a poem in which he recounts a fellow inmate jumping to his death from a tier, a poem in which he reminisces on feeling bereft of a woman’s touch, another where he recalls falling in love with a woman who’s visited a fellow inmate. His poems are revelatory, wise, poignant and help to re-envision mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex as what they are at the elemental level: humans failing humans.” — Mitchell S. Jackson


Reginald Dwayne Betts
is a husband and father of two sons. A poet and memoirist, he is the author of three books. The recently published Bastards of the Reagan Era, the 2010 NAACP Image Award winning memoir, A Question of Freedom, and, the poetry collection, Shahid Reads His Own Palm. Dwayne is currently enrolled in the PhD in Law Program at the Yale Law School. He has earned a JD from the Yale Law School, an MFA from Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers, and a BA from the University of Maryland.