The signature Freedom Library created by the MacArthur fellow, poet and lawyer is now on display at the National Building Museum, offering people for the first time a chance to see libraries just like it that are being installed in prisons across the country through Betts’s organization, Freedom Reads. The libraries aim to empower and transform the lives of people in prison through access to literature and beauty — providing books housed in handcrafted shelves designed to encourage community in the center of prison housing units.

“When you pick up a book, that helps you think about what it means to be alive in the world. When you have conversations about what it means to be alive in the world, suddenly, you’re beginning to understand yourself better, and in understanding yourself better, you’re better able to communicate something about your future,” said Betts, who was incarcerated at 16.