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

Red Deer wants no repeat of Calgary Stampede deaths

North American Pony Chuckwagon Championship

Central Alberta firefighters’ wildfire expertise recognized

Clearwater County Regional Fire Services chosen to create crack firefighting unit

Amazon Prime Day kind of ho hum for local retailers

E-commerce giant Prime Day sale runs Monday and Tuesday

Innisfail woman facing fraud charges

RCMP allege woman stole more than $54,000

Visitors flock to Bluebird Festival

Annual festival takes place east of Blackfalds

Chavis’ grand slam helps Red Sox beat Blue Jays 10-8

BOSTON — Rookie Michael Chavis hit a grand slam, Xander Bogaerts had… Continue reading

Group wants charges in horse deaths during Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races

CALGARY — An animal welfare group is renewing its call for cruelty… Continue reading

Cannabis producer Organigram Holdings Inc. reports $10.2M third-quarter loss

Organigram Holdings Inc. reported a third-quarter loss as revenue slipped amid lower… Continue reading

Churches jump into action with threat of immigration sweeps

CHICAGO — As a nationwide immigration crackdown loomed, religious leaders across the… Continue reading

Some in GOP rebuke Trump, but party leaders still silent

WASHINGTON — Top Republicans remained largely silent after President Donald Trump said… Continue reading

You don’t feel alientated, Trudeau tells western Canadians

National unity is not being threatened by the federal government’s attack on… Continue reading

Final blast of torrential rains unleashed by weakened Barry

NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Depression Barry spared New Orleans from catastrophic flooding,… Continue reading

Evidence erased by police would have freed wrongfully convicted man: defence lawyer

HALIFAX — A defence lawyer who fought to free Glen Assoun from… Continue reading

Most Read