Reginald Dwayne Betts refuses to let his time in prison define his life. But he admits that he can’t escape it. Even with an Ivy League education.

Days before he received his degree from Yale Law School on May 23, the Maryland native was splitting time between writing his final research paper and helping a longtime friend write letters to his parole officer.

It took a special bond to grab Betts’ attention during one of the most hectic weeks in his life, a bond born when the two shared a cellblock in a Virginia prison.

I’ve come a considerable distance from who I was at 16, but I’m still intimately connected to it, given the work I’m doing,

“Of course, it feels amazing to say I’ve come this huge distance, but the distance I’ve traveled is only worth it if I’m able to pull other people up.”

At 16, Betts used a borrowed pistol to carjack a man sleeping in his car at Virginia’s Springfield Mall, an offense that put him behind bars for eight years. At 35, he has a wife and two energetic sons, a degree from one of the top law schools in the country, and a desire to change the national conversation about incarceration.

Dwayne Betts served as the flag bearer for his Yale Law School Class of 2016 Monday. Betts, 35, graduated from Yale Law School on Monday afternoon in New Haven. At the age of sixteen, Betts was arrested for armed carjacking and sentenced to eight years in prison.