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A story of inspiration of the human spirit that creates a common path that anyone could follow in transcending a negative experience. Suicide was contemplated when Tony Papa realized that the best years of his life would be spent in a six-foot cell. One day he discovered painting. It gave him hope, and he discovered a talent. When the Whitney Museum chose his painting to exhibit, he had to lie because of the jarring stipulation that the painting chosen would have to be that of a murderer. He did and soon afterward he received intense media attention.

Governor Pataki got wind of his case, and after 12 hard years of time, Anthony Papa was granted clemency. Once released Papa spends his life trying to save those left behind. A thrilling, unforgettable read! Without those calls, I never would have survived my sentence. Anthony Papa, Drug Policy Alliance. Home page Current storylist Anthony Papa, a former inmate of the infamous Sing Sing prison and author of the bestseller "15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom," stands at his display table at the show, with copies of his books and sketchings on hand.

This is a cash cow. More than half of that money is prison revenue. Pataki after his self-portrait was hung in the New York Whitney Museum. He strives to inform the public of what is developing into the norm. However, he does a lot of his activism regarding U. He now lives in Brazil with his 4-year-old son and wife who is a practicing Yogi and dancer.

He returns occasionally for shows like this one and other opportunities to shop his wares and speak on prison privatization and urban exploitation. He recently teamed with the organizers of the Hip Hop Youth Summit Council, leading workshops that promote artistic expression. Papa also maintains he keeps young people aware of the prison system's design to keep urban youth enslaved and dependent on a system that promotes "individuals spending their most productive years of life in prison. It's about the prison industrial complex. State and private industry has found a new way to bring jobs home to the United States without having to pay minimum wage dollars, says Papa.

The Virginia Department of Corrections boasts on its web site that inmates, through Virginia Correctional Enter-prises work as upholsterers, furniture builders, printers and commercial laundry workers. In addition, inmate work crews work as highway crews maintaining rural highways through the department's contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. The Private Industry Enhancement program enables private businesses to manufacture within prisons using inmate labor.

Inmates working in PIE jobs are paid prevailing wages and are required to return the majority of earnings to pay court costs, restitution, child support and a portion of prison housing costs. To learn more about the Prisons Foundation, visit www. To learn more about Anthony Papa, visit www. Additional reporting by Norrelle P. Anthony Papa , New York, Oct. Artist, Prisoner and Author Tony Papa I vote -- my right to vote was taken That was called, "A Vote.

In prison, he became an artist and a political activist. Since his release in , Papa has fought tirelessly along with others to repeal New York's draconian drug laws, cofounding the group Mothers of the New York Disappeared.

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Now, Feral House has published his book 15 Years to Life: I really didn't know how I was going to survive, until one day I discovered my talent as an artist. My discovery of my art was life saving, it maintained my humanity, my self-esteem, it gave me meaning in my life and helped me transcend the negativity of the prison environment. Sing Sing was a cesspool. Parts of the prison were like the old Times Square--you could buy any type of weapon, TV sets, any form of contraband, drugs. There were more drugs in Sing Sing than in the streets.

The point I like to make is, if you can't control drugs in a maximum-security prison, how can you control drugs in a free society? More importantly, my art helped me discover my political awareness--who I was in society. I discovered the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and Picasso's "Guernica"--those were my influences where I saw that art could be used as a weapon of the oppressed against the oppressor. I began painting social statements against the death penalty and the prison-industrial complex. One of my pieces, "Corporate Asset," portrays the prison-industrial complex before the term was even coined.

It shows how the family unit is taken away from the home, the prisoner becomes food for the machine--the systematic dehumanization of the prisoner who becomes a nameless statistic going through the revolving doors of justice on the road to recidivism, only to be plucked in again at any time by the system. It's a visual narrative of important social concepts. For me, the greatest asset of an artist is using art as a social commentary. While my clemency petition was pending, my counselor came to me and told me to slow down.

Although he personally agreed with what I was doing, he thought I was jeopardizing my chances at freedom. Apparently, the warden had come to him and had wanted to withdraw the letter of support he had sent to the governor for me, because I was so outspoken. But I felt I had an obligation to speak out against the atrocity of imprisonment through my art.

For example, I painted one series called "Contraband Search. I went to the library and I found policies and directives on how C. So I painted a series of six-page paintings about this issue, and I tried to send them out--but the work was confiscated. I called my lawyer to say that I wanted to sue them because they took away my right to create--first they want me and now they want my mind. He said, "Look, slow down, don't sue them, you have you clemency petition pending, and you're going to hurt your chances at clemency.

So I was forced to strip down the directives off the paintings. But when I went back to my cell I thought, "Now they have my mind. Later, I got a call that the deputy of security wanted to see me, and I thought, "Now I'm in trouble, they must have found the directives in the mail.

I just blew my shot for freedom. That was an amazing experience. So even though I did jeopardize my freedom, I thought it was my duty and my obligation. Because I had this vehicle, I became a kind of cause celebre, and a lot of people wanted to come in the prison and interview me. I used my art as a vehicle to talk out against the system. I thank Governor Pataki for my clemency, but I have become an activist against him and his stance on Rockefeller reform, which is nonexistent. Three years ago, for the first time in 28 years, the governor openly came out and spoke against the drug laws.

Then the Senate and State Assembly leaders also came out. So you have all three top dogs of New York State government wanting to change the laws, but for three years, they've just argued about what changes to make. So throughout all this political rhetoric, people are still wasting away in prison. I will continue to use my art to fight the governor to compel him to change these laws. SO IF the top three legislators all agree, why hasn't there been reform? Since , 33 prisons have been built in up-state, rural Republican territories.

It's about the dollar. That's why people are still in prison, that's why these laws have not changed. That coupled with the disfunctionality of the legislative process in Albany. The "war on drugs" is a war on people itself and primarily people of color. It's about controlling a certain population.

If you look at New York State, 75 percent of the 19, people who are locked up under these laws come from seven inner-city neighborhoods. So this is about institutionalized racism.

15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom

It's very hard to change the system when it's run by politics that are dictated by personal gain. All politicians are thinking about is their own political careers. They don't care about people locked up in prison; they don't care about anything else. YOU TOLD me about a new district attorney who, with the support of activists, won a big upset victory in Albany by running strictly on an anti-Rockefeller Drug Law platform, beating out an incumbent who was a strong supporter of these laws.

How do you think he won? They saw it was a waste of tax money, of human life, money that could be better spent on needy communities, to feed the homeless, put shoes on shoeless children. When I came out in , I went to Albany with different groups to lobby politicians, and I saw that I was wasting my time trying to change the laws from the top down. All these politicians had dual opinions about the laws. The public opinion was: From that point, I said to myself, "We aren't going to win it up here. We're going to have to develop a plan to work it from the bottom up. We actually changed public opinion by taking the issue to the street and putting a human face on it.

We formed the group based on the Argentine mothers. They fought the military when they overtook the government in the s and '80s. Some 30, people were murdered--they disappeared. They held candlelight vigils and the Plaza de Mayo, and got a lot of public sympathy and public pressure from around the world to seek justice.

Patrick's Cathedral, and we staged our first rally, and all the New York press was there. We saw that this was how we were going to change these laws--by getting the press involved and reaching the masses with these human interest stories. And from a small, dedicated group of maybe 25 people, in five years, we changed the face of the war on drugs and how it was fought in New York.

What we did is we took to the grassroot street level. Now that model has expanded to other groups that hold rallies now across the country. The governor's proposed legislation is watered-down reform. It's a slap in the face to activists and to the people in prison. In , Pataki pushed through the Senate a reform bill that would have affected some of the loved ones we were advocating for.

The next day, the governor met with the Mother of the New York Disappeared and said, "If you support us, your loved ones will be free. So that was hanging like the carrot dangling on a string. And we actually rejected it, and it was hard for a lot of mothers--some of these women are disabled, in wheelchairs, dying of cancer, their loved ones stuck in prison. But we thought about the whole group. Instead of letting a few hundred people out, we want to build a movement to save thousands and thousands and thousands of lives in the long run. Drug users today are demonized--they're treated today as Communists were during the McCarthy era, the same way groups of people suspected of terrorism are treated today.

This goes with the whole philosophy of controlling certain populations of people with propaganda. I don't think Bush has a mandate, I think he stole the election again. But that won't effect my fighting against the war on drugs. I will continue to create ways to fight the government around these draconian laws that lock up certain disenfranchised or marginalized populations in the U. Lucy Herschel writes for the Socialist Worker. For more information about Anthony Papa's artwork, his book or the fight against the Rockefeller Drug Laws, visit his Web site at www.

Inmate freed by governor does ad for Pataki foe. George Pataki is appearing in a television commercial on behalf of one of Pataki's campaign foes. Anthony Papa said he supports Independence Party candidate B. Thomas Golisano because of the Rochester businessman's opposition to the state's mandatory drug sentencing laws that carry former Gov.


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In a new commercial, Papa says he spent 12 years in a "6-by-9 cage" because of a youthful indiscretion with cocaine. He was caught with 4. Papa declared his support for Golisano because the candidate advocates a plan to eliminate the mandatory minimum sentences under the Rockefeller drug laws with a system that allows more sentencing latitude by judges and prosecutors. Golisano said his plan would provide treatment instead of incarceration for many offenders, with a 75 percent savings in cost for the state.

In his commercial, Papa called Golisano's plan "true reform" and said it would eliminate the way the current system is allowed to "waste money, break lives and destroy families. Papa, released because of a good prison record and professional artistic abilities, has been a constant advocate of easing the drug laws since he was allowed the chance at early freedom before a parole board by a Pataki clemency decree in The parole board granted him his freedom. Earlier in the campaign, Papa said he supported Andrew Cuomo, because he liked Cuomo's drug offender reform plan better than the one put forward by Cuomo's foe for the Democratic nomination for governor, state Comptroller H.

Papa said in August, "We need somebody with a track record of getting things done like Andrew Cuomo. Pataki has advanced reform packages for the drug laws, but Democrats have complained that they do not go far enough. County prosecutors around the state say the drugs laws may be harsh, but that they have been given the tools through special drug courts and other programs to direct offenders with the best chance of recovery into treatment. Prosecutors generally support Pataki's approach and oppose those from Democrats.

Asked about the Papa ad Thursday, Pataki campaign spokesman Michael McKeon said the governor has a "comprehensive and sensible plan" to change the harshest elements of the drug laws.

Exterior House Painting Finished - In The Life 87

Though seldom invoked, those elements allowed for offenders to receive up to life in prison. They carried bulky old pocketbooks and frayed overnight bags stuffed with food and water and blankets for the long ride upstate.

Article: Anthony Papa, How I painted my way to Freedom [Archive] - Prison Talk

Several had sleepy children in tow. It was 9 p. I try to see him every weekend. It's a big sacrifice for me, but he's been a good father.


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We've got to change these Rockefeller Drug Laws. In , he was a successful middle-class businessman. He owned an auto-repair and radio business in the Bronx. He was married with a family and had never been in trouble with the law. Every week, he played in a bowling league in Yonkers. A member of his team turned out to be a drug dealer who distributed cocaine at bowling alleys across suburban Westchester County.

One day, the guy asked if Papa wanted to make some easy money. The courier who gave him the envelope turned out to be an undercover police informant. When Papa delivered the 4. The guys who set up Papa copped a plea. Papa went to trial and was convicted on two counts, sales and possession. The judge gave him a break: He sentenced Papa to one to-life sentence instead of two. Papa served 12 years in Sing Sing. In prison, he earned two bachelor's degrees and a master's from the New York Theological Seminary. He became a recognized artist, even exhibiting some paintings at the Whitney Museum.

He would still be in jail if Gov. George Pataki hadn't granted him clemency in December Pataki, following the tradition of past governors, pardons a handful of Rockefeller Law inmates every Christmas. Papa now works as a legal assistant at a patent and trademark law firm. In his spare time he is trying to build a movement to restore some sanity to our justice system. When the New York drug laws were enacted 25 years ago by then Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, they were the toughest in the nation.

Even today, a first-time offender convicted of selling 2 ounces of cocaine in New York gets a mandatory sentence of 15 years-to-life. Drug offenses are treated as harshly as murder, rape and kidnapping. As a result, the jails have exploded with drug felons. In , there were 12, inmates in the New York state prison system. Today there are more than 69, In , 57 percent of prison inmates were there for violent crimes, only 11 percent for drugs.

By last year, those rates were almost reversed. Some, like Warren Anderson, who was Republican majority leader in the state Senate when Rockefeller pushed through the original laws, are now campaigning quietly to restore some discretion to judges. Rockefeller has been dead a long time. But thousands are living out his legacy behind bars. Exposed to the political work of Picasso and Diego Rivera through a prison-art program, Papa began working with whatever materials he could get his hands on-acrylics, bedsheets, toilet paper-and produced startling images of prison life.

His big break came in when the Whitney Museum wrote to Sing Sing, seeking to borrow a piece of prison art by a convicted killer for the artist Mike Kelley's exhibition Pay for Your Pleasure. His appeals exhausted and seeing no other way out, Tony told the museum that he was a double murderer and submitted a piece to Kelley's show. Then he played the publicity for all it was worth.

When his burgeoning art career began attracting public notice, including a few write-ups in the New York Times, Gov. Pataki granted him clemency in It's also a powerful statement against a war on drugs. It's the Rockefeller drug laws, not the dealers and junkies, that are the real villains in Papa's story. Instituted in by then-governor Nelson Rockefeller, who wanted to build a "tough on crime" image as part of an aborted run for the presidency, the laws dictate 15 years as the minimum possible sentence a judge can give a person found in possession of four or more ounces of certain controlled substances.

That is, of course, unless you can cop a plea bargain, which means that big-time dealers can get a reduced sentence by trading information, while guys like Tony Papa get screwed. By way of comparison, Robert Chambers had a minimum term of five years for killing Jennifer Levin; Joel Steinberg a minimum of eight for killing his daughter Lisa.