The Haunting Self-Portrait That Freed a Man From a Long Drug Sentence
This self-portrait by Anthony Papa was painted while he was serving 15 years-to-life in Sing-Sing for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. In 1995, while Papa was still incarcerated, the painting was displayed at the Whitney Museum in New York. The resulting publicity—which Papa had to kick-start himself by writing to a local newspaper, as the Whitney showed “15 to Life,” anonymously—eventually led to Papa being released in 1997, having served 12 years.
Papa then became a prominent drug policy reform activist and was instrumental in the campaign that led to the reform of the Rockefeller drug laws in 2009. His friend and colleague Tony Newman, of the Drug Policy Alliance, writes in The Huffington Post:
[The painting] causes a wave of emotion every time I see it. The piece shows Papa looking into a mirror with his hands clasping his head. He is looking into the mirror realizing that he is going to spend the most productive years of his life in a cage. The expression on his face, and the regret and fear in his eyes is chilling.
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