The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

April 6, 2014

Prisoners transform into artists

Should they benefit from their work?

Imagine living in the space I am going to describe. It’s as small as the typical American bathroom, and contains little more than a bed, toilet, shelf, and personal possessions (which are limited). Death Row is not far from the cell you are living in and weighs constantly on your mind — with good reason. You have been convicted of killing a convenient store clerk for only $300.

You’ve been living here for a while, knowing that you’ll never walk through the door to freedom, never. What would you do?

 James Allridge, convicted of the crime I just spoke of, became an artist. Was he an artist before? Probably not, but he certainly became one. He began by drawing and drawing and kept going until he was able to produce many pieces of art for a rather nice fee. For many years he has been quietly helping to support his legal defense by selling his art on the Internet.

Allridge became rather famous after Susan Sarandon once came to the prison to see and speak to him. Their visit consisted of a discussion of Allridge being on Death Row and whether that was the punishment that should have been dealt. The rest of their discussion consisted of Allridge’s art, which Sarandon really liked. He became something he never could have conceived of being — a celebrity artist. After Sarandon’s visit, other celebrities began to show a keen interest in the man’s art.

I am going to leave you now to fix myself some warm tea, so perhaps you would like to fix yourself something warm as well. Be my guest!

OK, now let’s continue. As we all know in life, there are two sides to every story. “You can paint all you wish, you can draw all you want, but you should never be able to profit from anything you may produce while living on Death Row,” said Andy Kahn, director of Houston Victim Assistance Center. “Brian C. was murdered for a mere pittance of $300 and now his killer has gained fame because so many Hollywood celebrities visiting him because they are enamored of his art.”

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