Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy aims to help troubled youths in Chicago’s Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center address their personal issues by writing poetry about their circumstances and upbringing. Jeffrey Brown talks with poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, who turned around his life with writing and education after eight and a half years in prison.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a look at a writing program inside one of the nation’s largest juvenile detention facilities.

Jeffrey Brown has that story.

REGINALD DWAYNE BETTS, Poet: You know the truth of the quarrels and how history lets the blame go blameless for the blood that flows black in the streets.

JEFFREY BROWN: In a classroom inside the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago, incarcerated young people recently gathered to hear poet Reginald Dwayne Betts read his work and take their questions.

REGINALD DWAYNE BETTS: That’s part of what I meant by history, that it’s this bigger thing that we have to understand to even understand our own lives.

JEFFREY BROWN: When you come to a place like this, what are you hoping to get out of it?

REGINALD DWAYNE BETTS: I think, honestly, I’m trying to get them to pay attention to their own stories. So I will read a poem to them, I will talk to them, and if I get them to think about their own stories, they get to write their stories down and kind of think in a different way about how their stories shape the life that they have. And if you want a different life, you find a way to tell different stories.

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