3 must-read poetry books about racial, criminal justice

In the last days of National Poetry Month, check out these poetry books about wrongful conviction, incarceration, and racial justice. 

“Punching The Air” by Yusef Salaam and Ibi Zoboi

“Punching The Air” is a fictional story told through poetry about a boy named Amal Shahid. Amal is an artist and poet who attends a diverse art school. After an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates to tragedy, Amal is wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to prison. He turns to his art to grapple with his anger. 

“Punching The Air” is co-authored by award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam who is a member of the Central Park Five now known as the Exonerated Five and an Innocence Project board member.

Learn more here. 

“Felon” by Reginald Dwayne Betts

“Felon” is about the realities of incarceration. It details a variety of experiences including homelessness, underemployment, love, drug abuse, domestic violence, fatherhood, and grace. The book depicts the struggles of post-incarceration existence through traditional poetry and new forms of writing such as using redacted court documents to create poetry.

Reginald Dwayne Betts is the founder of Freedom Reads, an organization that works to radically transform access to literature in prison.

Learn more here. 

”The Tradition” by Jericho Brown 

“The Tradition” features poems about fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma. The book details the normalization of evil from past to present and addresses questions at the core of humanity: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? 

Jericho Brown is Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Learn more about his works here.