‘Art kept me sane’: America’s longest-serving inmate to win exoneration, 73, who wrongly spent 45 YEARS in prison is now selling the masterpieces he created behind bars as he struggles to live off $589 a month in food stamps and social security
- Richard Phillips, 73, was 26 years old when he was sentenced to life in a Michigan prison for a murder he did not commit
- He was exonerated in March and is now surviving on $500 a month in Social Security and $89 in food stamps
- Phillips, who worked for Chrysler, was blamed for the murder of Gregory Harris
- An artist, Phillips said he was initially given a deal in which would reduce his sentence to a second-degree murder charge and let him go – but he refused
- He could be entitled to as much as $2.25 million dollars under Michigan’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act
- But the state so far is resisting, so he is displaying 50 of his more than 400 watercolors at a Detroit area gallery and is willing to sell them
Richard Phillips said he didn’t mope much during the 45 years he wrongfully spent in prison.
He painted watercolors 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 $2million 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 watercolors at a Detroit-area gallery and is willing to sell them.
Richard Phillips, who spent 45 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, stands next to some of his artwork during an interview at the Community Art Gallery in Ferndale, Michigan on Thursday
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 showed his work at an art gallery inside Level One Bank in Ferndale, a Detroit suburb, on 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.
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
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 colors 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.
Phillips could be eligible for more than $2million under a Michigan law that compensates the wrongly convicted, but the state so far is resisting. So he’s displaying roughly 50 of his more than 400 watercolors at a Detroit-area gallery and is willing to sell them
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.