He was smart and talented, yet landed in jail after making a bad choice. Now, Reginald Betts is encouraging youth to learn from his experience as he makes a new life for himself.
Betts' story, told by Lonna O'Neal Parker in the Washington Post and printed Monday in the Hutchinson News, is inspirational and telling.
Betts was a smart kid growing up, but didn't apply his wisdom to his personal life.
"I had a teacher who honestly, legitimately didn't like me," Betts says. "But I legitimately, honestly was not a likable person."
When one of Betts' school teachers figured out that making him read kept him quiet, Betts discovered that he enjoyed reading. Even though he showed academic talent in high school, Betts did barely enough to get by and smoked dope with friends after school.
Betts had never been in trouble with police, but he says, "I wasn't fully law-abiding either." In December of his junior year of high school, Betts and a friend drove a stolen car to a mall. There, they found a man asleep in his car. Betts pointed a borrowed pistol at the man, stole his wallet, and drove off with his car. After they tried to buy $300 worth of clothes with the heisted credit card, Betts got arrested. Tried at 16 as an adult, Betts was found guilty and sentenced to 8 years in jail.
Why did he do it? "Basically," Betts says, "I did it because I wanted to and because I could and because I didn't think it would define me for the rest of my life."
While prison hardens most people, it changed Betts. When he got out, he determined to live a different life.
Nearly a year after he got out of prison, Betts, 25, started the YoungMenRead book club at Karibu Books in Bowie, Maryland.
"Young people don't read because they don't see other people they can associate with being cool reading," Betts says. "I've got a space where we can come together."
A straight 'A' student in junior college, Betts is focusing on keeping his grades up and figuring out where next to attend school.
Here's hoping that many will read and learn from Betts' life.