By Reginald Dwayne Betts
Brought to you by the Guernica/PEN Flash Series
His mother told him. He’d forgotten though. Airports always pour a nice shot. Something about being that close to distance makes bartenders understand suffering. That Thursday he was headed fourteen cities away from anyone he knew and the brown was fortification. He would say things like that to himself, “was fortification.” See his daddy built houses, not real houses but the kind that grown men create in their mind and lock themselves inside. The doctor’s called it bi-polar but his moms just said his father had “some shit with him.” Turned his head into an airport. He was always running away from something, always fourteen cities away from the people that loved him, even if they were in the house with him. His father taught him to crave brown liquor. Lighter fluid for the brain he would say, as if he, the father, thought it would drown out the noise. Half a dozen years later and every time he walks into an airport he thinks about his father. When he stares down a nice long taste of cognac, he almost wishes there were voices in his head he wanted to drown out—wishes the distance he traveled was always with him, and not the way he stole away from things he couldn’t handle.
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a husband and father of two sons. As a poet, essayist and national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, Betts writes and lectures about the impact of mass incarceration on American society. In 2011 Betts was awarded a Radcliffe Fellowship to Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies. The author of the memoir, A Question of Freedom (Avery/Penguin 2009) and the collection of poetry, Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010), Betts’s work possesses a careful, complicated and often difficult-to-confront intimacy that challenges conventional ideas about crime, masculinity, and redemption. In 2010 he was awarded an NAACP Image Award for A Question of Freedom, and a Soros Justice Fellowship to complete The Circumference of a Prison, a work of nonfiction exploring the criminal justice system’s role in the every day lives of Americans who have not committed crimes.