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

North Island College entices international students to Alberni’s ECCE program

Port Alberni had seven international students in January 2019

Port Alberni’s bylaw department shifts from reactive to proactive

8.5 times more files being completed by bylaw officers

Port Alberni’s West Coast Rangers hold rendezvous

Three-day event featured historical re-enactment

Port Alberni Port Authority talks logistics for cruise ship visit

Some restrictions for pedestrians, boaters will be in place

Port Alberni’s ‘Army of Problem Solvers’ to the rescue

Facebook group gathers people who just want to help their neighbours

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve investigating after sea lion found shot in the head

Animal is believed to have been killed somewhere between Ucluelet and Tofino

B.C. port workers set to strike on Monday in Vancouver

A strike at two container terminals would affect Canadian trade to Asia

Cyclists can choose round trip from Comox to Nanaimo, or Alberni-Nanaimo-Comox

The Boomer’s Legacy British Columbia Bike Ride is back. In a couple… Continue reading

Volunteers already rescuing fry from drying creekbeds around Cowichan Lake

It’s early but already salmon fry are being left high and dry

Prepare yourself for tick season, says Island Health official

2017 saw three reported cases of Lyme disease

So, they found ‘Dave from Vancouver Island’

Dave Tryon, now 72 and living in North Delta, will reunite with long-ago travelling friends in Monterey, Calif.

Scheer says it would take Conservatives five years to balance budget

Scheeraccused the Liberal government of spending $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted funds

Most Read