A single Man’s Art of Incarceration

On President Barack Obama’s last working day in office he granted clemency to 330 nonviolent drug offenders as section of his clemency initiative. He on top of that granted commutations to 1,715 prisoners—more than the former 12 presidents combined. One case was the 35-yr prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, who stole top secret diplomatic and armed forces documents that the Military personal then shared with WikiLeaks.

Initiated in 2014, Obama’s clemency initiative focused on drug dealers who obtained obligatory-least sentences for the duration of the War on Drugs from the 1980s to the 2000s.

Fulton Leroy Washington (a k a Mr. Wash) was 1 of the 58 whose sentences have been commuted in May possibly 2016. Wrongfully convicted in 1997 of conspiracy to endeavor to manufacture PCP, he spent decades in federal prison for a drug crime he did not dedicate, in accordance to the now 63-calendar year-outdated grandfather from Compton, Calif.

A latest documentary short tells the tale of Washington’s homecoming. One particular of the filmmakers, journalist Marisa Aveling, very first learned about Wash when studying articles on Obama’s clemency initiative, which was a single tactic the president utilised to deal with the challenge of mass incarceration in America. In Aveling’s article in The Outline, she noted that both Obama and previous White Property counsel Neil Eggleston thought “It’s a device of very last vacation resort in battling a process that puts folks absent for prolonged lengths that considerably outweigh their crimes.”

Due to the fact the cost Washington was convicted of in 1997 was element of a conspiracy case, he was tried out as section of a team even though he was not directly included with the crime of conspiracy to endeavor and manufacture PCP. “When tried out beneath a conspiracy you can be sentenced with severity of the entire team no issue what you did or did not do,” defined Aveling.

The former welding teacher experienced been earlier convicted of a few nonviolent drug offenses in 1996. “Due to a obligatory minimum amount, the decide [in the 1997 case] was needed to give Washington a lifetime sentence even although he was equipped to show his innocence,” observed Aveling. Clean was the only defendant who didn’t concur to acquire a plea bargain.

Confronted with a lifetime sentence with no probability of parole, Washington commenced portray as a way to deliver some serenity to his lifestyle. “Painting authorized me to express myself,” the self-taught artist reported. He observed the perform of other artistic prisoners and researched art textbooks and videotapes to discover system. By way of demo and error he identified his own style, which he describes as a contact of surrealism pieced jointly with emotional tales.


Washington at first commenced portray with oils at the Leavenworth federal jail in Kansas. His 1st commission was from his legal professional. She asked him to sketch an alibi witness who could ensure that Wash was miles from the scene of the criminal offense he was charged with. Despite finding the witness, who corroborated Wash’s tale in court, he was nevertheless convicted.


Washington’s artwork served as a sort of interaction and a way to gain respect inside of a hierarchical prison modern society. He started teaching art classes to other inmates, some of whom also commissioned him to produce paintings of them and their relations. Other inmates or their relatives users donated resources to his attorney for his authorized defense. At a single position he was paid in postage stamps.

Breast Milk

3 of his mural-dimension paintings, such as “The Flag Increasing at Iwo Jima” and “The Hondo Level Catastrophe of 1923,” hold in the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Making. Clean hopes to make a residing now portray murals and portraits or as an art trainer.

Washington thinks it was his up-to-date edition of Francis Bicknell Carpenter’s 1864 painting of the initially looking at of the Emancipation Proclamation that drew his lawyer’s awareness to his predicament and helped procure his launch. Even though emulating Carpenter’s form and format, Wash utilised shiny colours instead of the dim, solemn palette of the primary. He depicted President Obama seated in Lincoln’s chair, surrounded by Lawyer General Eric Holder, Vice President Joe Biden and other crucial users of his staff members. Wash himself is revealed seated across the table in prison apparel, shackled in chains and with his clemency lawyer seated nearby.

Emancipation Proclamation

“We’re nonetheless dealing with slavery in sort of mass incarceration,” Washington said. “We’re not on a plantation but in a prison.

“People seemed at the painting and questioned, ‘Who is this person? How numerous individuals did he get rid of to get a lifetime sentence?’ ” Washington reported. When they realized there experienced been no violence or fatalities, they questioned his sentence of lifestyle in prison devoid of probability of parole.

This week, President Trump mentioned he would indication a prison reform monthly bill that is working its way by way of Congress. Washington’s story can serve as a lesson about the variety of transform that is essential.

Liesl Bradner


Liesl Bradner is a Los Angeles-based mostly journalist masking the arts, lifestyle and history for the past 15 several years. She has been a reserve reviewer for Truthdig given that 2014. The Pennsylvania indigenous graduated from Florida Point out University immediately after learning English literature at Cambridge University. Quickly soon after a stint at the Orlando Sentinel, she landed at the Los Angeles Moments. Her function has appeared in the New Republic, The Guardian, Selection, and Environment War II and armed service history magazines. She has also contributed essays for Taschen books’ “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” and “Matthew Weiner’s Mad Guys.” A member of the West Los Angeles Veterans House Guidance Basis, Bradner is at present co-authoring the forthcoming ebook “Snapdragon: The WWII Exploits of Darby’s Ranger and Beat Photographer Phil Stern,” to be posted in spring 2018.

Liesl Bradner

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A single Man’s Art of Incarceration

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