[Let us hope that reform of the draconian Rockefeller drug laws which were widely emulated by other states will not be forgotten in Albany.  One of the reasons for resistance to reform is that while most of those incarcerated are from 7 poor communities in NYC, the great bulk of the prisons are in upstate NY where jobs are scarce and prison guarding has filled that gap.  The Republican controlled Senate has also allowed the districts where these prisons sit to count prisoners (who cannot vote) as residents in voting population figures.

The most cruel feature of this geographical separation is that families (children of prisoners) cannot reach them.  Lest we forget, drug use is for too many depressed people a form of self medication to be treated not punished.  Also the prosecution of drug users is focused on minorities — 9/10 of those imprisoned — while non minorities out there who use drugs in greater numbers are largely spared arrest and imprisonment.  The U.S. vastly leads the rest of the world with prisoners (1/4 of the total while we have 1/20 the global population).  And diseases are compounded in our prisons also by such things rapes that transfer diseases such as AIDS.  A young father with two children so afflicted committed suicide two days after being released from prison several years ago.  Contact Tony Papa for more details. Ed Kent]


Ed, I just finished putting up this installation. I had a major confrontation with security which ordered me to take down two
upside down American flags after numerous complaints by faculty and
students.   After much debate the president of the college said I had a
constitutional right to express myself and I was allowed to show my art.
Please pass this around. Thanks, Tony

Immediate Release
Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5385

August 7, 2007

Artist, Activist Tony Papa to Highlight Cruel Drug War with Art
Installation at Criminal Justice Conference at  John Jay College in NYC
on August  9-10

Show Visually Depicts Major Tragedies of Drug War: “Two Years for One
Joint”; “HIV Due to Dirty Syringes”; “Racial Disparity of Drug War”

Papa Discovered Art in Prison and Painted His Way to Freedom after 12
Years Behind Bars Under Draconian Drug Laws

Noted artist, activist and author Anthony Papa will highlight the
casualties of the war on drugs in an art installation during a
conference titled “On the Edge: Transgression and the Dangerous Other on
August 9 and 10 at John Jay College of Criminal Justice located at 899
10th Ave. in New York City.  The conference will involve presentations,
art and photographic exhibits, music, spoken word performances and film
screenings centered around the concept of a new criminology for the 21st

“The Drug War” is an art installation by artist/activist Anthony Papa.
The installation is a multi-media presentation that visually portrays
some of the most compelling drug war issues in the news.  The visual
narratives in the installation are powerful reminders of the raging war
on drugs that ravages many of our communities.  “The use of art as a
political weapon is not new,” says Papa who discovered his political
awareness through his art and has used his art as a vehicle to fight the
drug war.  “Through history, the role of the artist as a social
commentator has been invaluable.”

“Like Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ and Goya’s ‘Third of May,’ which both
powerfully portrayed the atrocities of war, my installation follows
their lead in revealing the impact of America’s drug war.

Papa spent 12 years in prison for a first time non-violent drug offense.
While imprisoned, he discovered his artistic talent.  In 1995, after a
showing of his art at the Whitney Museum, his case attracted national
attention.  Two years later, New York Governor George Pataki granted
Papa executive clemency.  Papa currently works for the Drug Policy

The installation highlights issues that affect all Americans, whether
they use drugs or not.  It is steeped in a continuous motif of an upside
down American flag, which signifies the universal concept of the state
of distress in war.

“Justice in Black and White” shows the racial imbalance of the effects
of the New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws. Ninety-four percent of those
incarcerated under the laws are black and Latino. Ten crying babies
dress in prison garb dangle in front of their incarcerated mothers and
ask “where are our mothers?”

“Two Years in Jail for One Joint” shows the madness of the drug war.
Mitchell Lawrence, an 18-year-old was sentenced to two years in jail for
one joint by an over zealous prosecutor in Massachusetts. A single
golden joint sits in a silver jewelry box surrounded by dozens of

“Give Them All Dirty Needles and Let Them Die” – taken from the cruel
quote of TV’s “Judge Judy” – boldly illustrates how New Jersey is the
only U.S. state that lacks a needle exchange program. Dozens of bloodied
syringes penetrate a coffin draped with the New Jersey flag.

In “Cops or Docs” a marijuana plant asks the question who should decide
what medicine we should put in our bodies.

“Got a Cold? Prove it and Sign the Log” portrays the hoops Americans
must now jump through to buy cold medicine due to the federal
government’s desire to monitor our everyday actions in the name of the
curbing the methamphetamine “epidemic.” Papa hopes the installation
raises awareness for those in mainstream society who rarely think about
the drug war.

“I use my art as a means of visually translating the deep emotional
responses of the human condition,” Papa said. “My life choices forced me
to discover my hidden artistic talent.”

For more conference info: www.jjay.cuny.edu/ontheedge/

Newsday (New York)
October 24, 2004 Sunday

Portrait of the artist as free man

BYLINE: Ellis Henican

It took a while, a whole lot longer than it should have. But Tony
finally got to see his painting hanging where it belonged.

Thirty-five miles and 16 years from the prison cell where he painted
Displayed in a gallery at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

This wasn’t the first time that Papa’s self-portrait, which he titled
“15 to
Life,” was shown at the Whitney. But the last time Papa wasn’t able to
make the
museum show. He was otherwise detained, serving an absurdly long prison
term at
the Ossining Correctional Facility on a nonviolent drug conviction under
state’s harsh Rockefeller laws.

“That portrait changed so much for me,” Papa said. “I was sitting in
my cell,
three years into my sentence. I picked up a mirror. I looked in the
mirror. In
the mirror I saw an individual who was gonna spend the most productive
years of
his life in a six-by-nine-foot cage. Then I went to the canvas, and I
that look.”

The picture Papa painted was foreboding and dark, acrylic paint on an
18-by-24-inch canvas. He was holding a paintbrush. His fingers were
spread. His
hands were resting on his head. His right eye was in a shadow. His left
eye was
wide open, staring ahead.

“I created this painting, and seven years later an angelic letter
from the Whitney Museum, asking me to put a piece of my work in an
show,” he said. “From that point on, I knew that was the key to my
freedom. If I
could show my work at the Whitney, I could paint myself free.”

It wasn’t quite that easy, of course. People inside and outside the
admired Papa’s talent and recognized the injustice of these
laws. Various friends interceded on his behalf.

And in that roundabout fashion, Papa’s confidence in the power of his
art was
ultimately borne out.

The painting was shown, him still at Sing Sing. The story got some
play. That generated a second look at the drug conviction and his long
term. Finally, in 1997, Gov. George Pataki signed the executive-clemency
that set Papa free. For a single cocaine sale, his first conviction,
he’d served
12 years of his 15-to-life.

“I really did paint my way out of prison,” he said.

He never gave up on the broader cause. He has spent the past seven
working to change the law that locked him up. He co-founded a group the
New York
Mothers of the Disappeared, organizing relatives of Rockefeller-law
trying to push Pataki to expand his one-man clemency into a more
sensible drug

It’s slow going, but the signs of hope are real. Again this year,
Papa and
his drug-reform allies will take their case to Albany.

He’s written a book about it, being published next month by Feral
House, “15
to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom” by Anthony Papa with Jennifer
There’s a Web site, www.15tolife.com, and the story’s already been
optioned for

But Tony Papa had one piece of unfinished business. He had never been
able to
see his portrait on the museum wall.

So the other night, there was a party at the Whitney to celebrate the
book. Hors d’oeuvres were passed. Wine was served. Mario Cuomo turned
up. So did
most major players in the drug-reform movement. Several of Papa’s
including the famous self-portrait, were hanging in a beautifully lit
space on
the gallery wall.

People kept saying what an inspiration Tony Papa is.

“Tony is the human face of these inhumane laws,” said Andrew Cuomo,
former federal housing secretary who has been championing the
drug-reform cause
in New York. “Here is what a Rockefeller prisoner looks like. Here is
his art.
He was locked in a cage for 12 years. Was he really such a threat to

Miele Rockefeller, the granddaughter of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, for
whom the
laws were named, was there to support Papa. “The Rockefeller laws should
renamed the Pataki laws,” she said. “My grandfather would have changed
them by
now, and George Pataki won’t.”

After the museum show, the group retired to an after-party in the
Towers apartment of hedge-fund director Lawrence Goldfarb, a Republican.
Wall Streeters mixed with freshly released ex-prisoners. It was about as
far as
you could get from Sing Sing.

“I’m a Republican businessman,” said Goldfarb, whose company is
Baystar Capital. “In dollars and cents and in social devastation, these
make no sense at all.”

All evening long, Papa, who is 49 now, looked humbled but also
energized. “So
many people are reaching out with love,” he said. “They’re walking up to
crying, asking, ‘What can I do?’ ”

He had an answer for all of them. “Speak to your political leaders.
pressure on the governor. We have to change these laws for everyone.

“One person really can make a difference,” he’d say each time.
“Believe me. I

GRAPHIC: Newsday Photos / Viorel Florescu – 1) Tony Papa’s “15 to Life”
2) Tony
Papa, a free man, stands beneath “15 to Life,” which he painted while
incarcerated under the Rockefeller drug laws.(A04 C BD)

Drug-laws foe’s fete

THE Rockefeller Drug Laws will be repealed if Anthony Papa can reach
enough people.  Papa, who had a radio repair business in The Bronx and a
young daughter, did 12 years in Sing Sing after one of his bowling
teammates asked him in 1985 if he wanted to make $500 delivering an
envelope.  It turned out the package was cocaine.  Papa wrote “15 to
Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom,” about becoming an artist while
in prison.  He co-founded Mothers of the N.Y. Disappeared in 1998 to
bring attention to the unfairness of the 1973 laws which send low-level
drug dealers to jail for longer sentences than rapists or murderers.  On
Monday night, after an opening at the Whitney, Papa was feted at the
Waldorf Towers by hedge fund wizard Lawrence Goldfarb and such guests as
Andrew Cuomo, art dealer Donald Rosenfeld, Vanity Fair writer Frank
DiGiacomo and groom-to-be Al Reynolds, looking relaxed as his Nov. 12
wedding to Star Jones approaches.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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