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Full Circle

"Let’s spin a lap around the yard": this was what I would say to someone before we would begin to walk and talk around the prison track. The track that circles the prison yard is where prisoners congregate. I have walked many laps – on many prison yards – with many different types of felons, but there was one person that stood out.

At Augusta Correctional Center in Virginia, we called him Shahid, which means "witness" in Arabic, but there were others who called him "wiz kid". He wore glasses and toted many books everywhere he went. Even though he became famous, Reginald Dwayne Betts is a reliable and remarkable friend. He has managed to keep me informed on current events in his life, advocates for my clemency, and demonstrates support in my needs.

In the year 2008, he sent me a photo of him holding his first-born child. The radiant smile he wore matched the event he took part in. The picture captured his first time exercising his freedom to vote. In contrast to other pictures taken while in prison, Betts didn't smile. So the smile said more than words could describe. Voting meant something special to him. We had talked about it years before as we walked around the prison yard.

He even included me in one of his poetry reading events. I called him over the phone one day, as I usually do, you know to check-in, give him an update on my latest achievements. But before I spoke, he asked if I mind being on speaker phone while he had a Q & A session at a college in New York. Through my calm excitement I agreed, spoke to the audience, shared a little background information about how we knew each other. It worked out successfully. To think about accepting my call in the middle of his performance meant a lot to me. Truly, Betts brought me along with him.

By bringing me along, Bett's friendship transcended into advocating for my clemency. My only way to be free early would be to petition Virginia's Governor for a pardon. Recently, after graduation from Yale Law School, Betts practiced his legal expertise to build and support my case, we strategized and planned. I gathered all my certificates and awards, 25 years worth to be exact, that I had earned. We submitted those documents to the Governor's office. My productivity impressed him, but he wasn't too surprised since we share similar ambitions.

Of course, I've been very busy in prison, but we thought beyond these gates. Betts had written an article in The New York Times, in which he included the mention of my clemency petition. The New York Times contacted me. They needed to fact check some of the statements Betts mentioned about me. It worked. It caught the attention of the Virginia Parole Board. The article highlighted my case. It showed the character of Betts, and his unyielding determination to help others in the prison struggle. He used his influence with the media to help promote my clemency.

To think time was important, every minute counts. In 2018 I completed a paralegal correspondence course in Civil Litigation. Aa date was set for the prison's graduation. Dealing with the success Betts had acquired, I thought, maybe, his presence would add motivation to my fellow graduates attending the ceremony.

I called and asked if he would like to attend and give a speech at my graduation. With no hesitation he accepted. The day before the ceremony he boarded a flight from Connecticut to Charlottesville, Virginia, all the on the strength of our friendship.

Donning a fedora with designer glasses, Betts was dressed like a seasoned lawyer. As he spoke with conviction, Betts impressed my peers, even staff too. My graduation turned out a success. This was a defining moment in my life. I will always remember how Betts make time for me.

Currently, he is making plans to showcase a one-man play he wrote based on his latest poetry book called "Felon". No matter what we are doing, we both are creating our own paths. I am quite sure we have untold stories to share with each other. In the near future we will gather to eat good food while immersed in good conversation. In the meantime, until that day arrives, we are still walking together, just in different circles.

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