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VIEWS AND VOICES
Taking away prisoners' art

December 9, 2005 | Page 8

AN ONLINE art show sponsored by New York's Fortune Society generated national attention recently because one of the participants in the show was serial killer Alfred J. Gaynor.

The Fortune Society and advocates believe that art and other prison programs are therapeutic and rehabilitative. The auction is a way for artists to show and sell their artwork, generating small income in order to buy art supplies.

"Learning how to paint behind bars saved my life," said artist Anthony Papa, who served 12 years of a 15-to-life sentence under the New York Rockefeller Drug Laws.

On March 29, 2002, New York State Corrections Commissioner Glen Goord ended 35 years of artistic expression in the New York State prison system by banning the sale of art by prisoners. Before the ban, prisoners in New York were allowed to exhibit their art once a year in the legislative office building in Albany. The art was sold, and 50 percent of the profits were donated to the Crime Victims Board.

In the 2002 show, however, a painting created by a serial killer was displayed. The press found out about it, and the political process went into overkill trying to look tough on crime. The public reasoning behind Goord's decision was that he felt it was not worth the anguish crime victims feel to allow imprisoned artists to sell their art.

"For many men and women in prison, art is a life-sustaining source," said Papa, who is the author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom and currently works with the Drug Policy Alliance. "For most of them, earning money selling their art enables them to buy food and toiletries and help support their families in the outside world."

Now, Massachusetts appears to be following New York's lead. In response to sensationalistic media, state Reps. Cheryl Rivera and Peter Koutoujian introduced bills that would prohibit inmate artists receive any profits from their art. "Creating and selling art instills a sense of self-esteem, which is a very important element in re-entering society," Papa said. "Instead of attacking programs like this, we should be expanding them."
Tony Newman, Director of Communications, Drug Policy Alliance

For more information, see www.15yearstolife.com/Artban.htm on the Web.

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