Erick Betancourt ’12

From Prison Cell to Actor’s Studio

As Erick Betancourt drove onto campus one day in February, a belt broke on his 1996 Oldsmobile, making it impossible to drive. As the rain poured down, the theater major abandoned the car and ran to class.

As the burly senior stepped into the Fine Arts Center, soaked through from the rain, he reflected on how different his life had become. It was only 10 years ago that Betancourt, was driving luxury vehicles, wearing expensive clothes, and enjoying Providence nightclubs.

That morning run through the foul weather was enough to make the 32-year-old wonder if his time at URI was really worth it.

Until he checked his email.

Betancourt, who grew up in the Bronx and the Manton Heights area of Providence, learned he’d been accepted to The Actor’s Studio, the prestigious New York City school for professional actors, theater directors, and playwrights.

This story began while Betancourt was incarcerated in the Adult Correctional Institutions after being sentenced to three-and-a-half years for possessing crack cocaine.

At the ACI, he met Bruce Reilly, an inmate who was writing a play. About a year after his release, Betancourt bumped into Reilly, whose play, House of Death, was in production at Providence’s Perishable Theater. Reilly gave Betancourt a few lines in the play, and everything just clicked.

Betancourt took acting classes at Trinity Repertory Company and auditioned at Perishable Theatre. He served as an extra on the Showtime series Brotherhood. And he enrolled at URI to study theater.

As a theater major, Betancourt not only performed in productions such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Tartuffe, he was also a teaching assistant for Theater 100 and worked with Talent Development freshmen, telling them about the value of education and hard work.

“I’m leaving URI and I owe money, but I’m going to bet on myself again.” Betancourt said. “If I have to spend a few years eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I’m OK with that.”

—Brian Pernicone