By Ryan Velez
From jail to Yale sounds like an impossible dream. However, sometimes reality can be stranger than fiction, as one man actually managed to beat the odds and go from being a convicted felon to a Yale Law School graduate and award-winning author. ABCNews reports that 36-year-old Reginald Dwayne Betts has added yet another impressive achievement to his story, winning approval to practice law in Connecticut.
The Connecticut Bar Examining Committee recommended that Betts be admitted to the state bar, a move that cleared him to become an attorney pending a swearing-in ceremony. "I'm happy that they made that decision," Betts said. "I'm just grateful for the huge amount of support people gave me."
Betts was originally flagged after passing the bar exam in February because of his three felony convictions from a carjacking two decades ago in Virginia. Betts was a teenager at the time. Like the majority of states, a felony does not necessarily prohibit one from practicing law. Where the issue arises is that a felony creates a presumption that the applicant lacks "good moral character and/or fitness to practice law." Such applicants must prove otherwise by "clear and convincing evidence." Betts had no shortage of people in his corner, flooding the committee with letters supporting his admission and praising his good character.
"I think that his story is a remarkable story," said former Connecticut Judge Anne Dranginis, chairwoman of the Bar Examining Committee. "Mr. Betts demonstrated his commitment to others who may have lost their way. He has a great deal to offer, in addition to what he has already done."
After the carjacking at the age of 16, Betts served eight years in prison. Upon his release, he went on to graduate from the University of Maryland. He would then win a Harvard University fellowship and earn a Yale law degree. During this stage of his life, he also wrote two books of poetry, and a memoir, "A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison.” This earned a 2010 NAACP Image Award.
Married with two children and living in New Haven, Betts does not plan to rest on his laurels. He has also began working on a doctorate of law at Yale, hoping to become a law professor someday. He recently finished an internship in the New Haven public defender's office, and has a clerkship next year with Judge Theodore McKee at the federal appeals court in Philadelphia.