U.S. man exonerated after 45 years sells his prison art to get by

Richard Phillips painted warm landscapes and portraits of famous people like Mother Teresa in his prison cell

Richard Phillips said he didn’t mope much during the 45 years he wrongfully spent in prison. He painted watercolours in his cell: warm landscapes, portraits of famous people like Mother Teresa, vases of flowers, a bassist playing jazz.

“I didn’t actually think I’d ever be free again. This art is what I did to stay sane,” the 73-year-old said.

Phillips could be eligible for more than $2 million under a Michigan law that compensates the wrongly convicted , but the state so far is resisting and the matter is unsettled. So he’s displaying roughly 50 of his more than 400 watercolours at a Detroit-area gallery and is willing to sell them.

His paintings are precious to him, but he said he has no choice: He needs money.

Phillips was released from custody in 2017 and, in 2018, became the longest-serving U.S. inmate to win exoneration. He was cleared of a 1971 homicide after an investigation by University of Michigan law students and the Wayne County prosecutor’s office.

Phillips is showing his work at an art gallery inside Level One Bank in Ferndale, a Detroit suburb. A reception was planned for Friday night.

“Are you the artist? God bless you. Beautiful,” a bank customer said while admiring a painting of five musicians Thursday.

Phillips said he bought painting supplies by selling handmade greeting cards to other inmates. He followed a strict routine of painting each morning while his cellmate was elsewhere. He was sometimes inspired by photos in newspapers and liked to use bright colours that didn’t spill into each other.

But a cramped cell isn’t an art studio. Phillips said prison rules prevented him from keeping his paintings so he regularly shipped them to a pen pal.

After he was exonerated, Phillips rode a bus to New York state last fall to visit the woman. He was pleased to find she still had the paintings.

“These are like my children,” Phillips, a former auto worker, said during a tour with The Associated Press.

“But I don’t have any money. I don’t have a choice. Without this, I’d have a cup on the corner begging for nickels and dimes. I’m too old to get a job,” he said.

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy supports Phillips’ effort to be compensated for his years in prison. Michigan’s new attorney general, Dana Nessel, is reviewing the case. It’s complicated because he has a separate disputed conviction in Oakland County that’s still on the books, spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said.

Phillips’ attorney, Gabi Silver, who has helped him adjust to a life of freedom, said the paintings are inspirational.

“To suffer what he has suffered, to still be able to find good in people and to still be able to see the beauty in life — it’s remarkable,” she said.

Ed White, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Wetaskiwin RCMP arrest two in Camrose after report of suspicious persons

Fugitives try to flee on ATVS, one allegedly steals police car

Wetaskiwin RCMP Investigate Aggravated Assault

Natasha Bull, 33, has been arrested

County of Wetaskiwin approves small land purchase

Total of $350 worth of land for road upgrade project

Pasta this week with optional sauces

Red or white pasta sauce recipes included

County: Louis Bull Tribe must send us more info

In 2017, tribe requested county taxpayers build $11 million overpass

QUIZ: How much do you remember about Woodstock?

Weekend music festival in Bethel, New York, was held 50 years ago

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

‘It’s just the freedom:’ Paralyzed Broncos player pursuing life on the water

The former Humboldt Broncos goaltender, who started in the net when he was nine, was paralyzed last year

Central Alberta Buccaneers punch ticket to AFL Final

28-20 win over Fort Mac sets up likely date against Calgary Wolf Pack

Canadians killed in Afghanistan honoured during emotional dedication ceremony

One-hundred-fifty-eight Canadian soldiers died during the mission

Discussion on grief and loss between Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper goes viral

The exchange includes emotional question from Cooper, and outlook on grief as a child

Toronto activist calling on federal parties to nominate more black candidates

Fewer than 20 black Canadians have been nominated so far, including some Liberal MPs seeking re-election

Most Read