Gary sits in the prison at Airway Heights, gesturing animatedly. His attorney has gotten him talking about art, and we'll be here for a long time. Gary has recently shifted from realistic landscapes to abstracts and could talk about it all day. Also watercolors, and the precise techniques to use. Don't worry, he tells his lawyer. I'll walk you through it when I'm out.
Gary is now 70 years old. His life was marked by instability and addiction before his conviction in 1999. He had two previous felonies, both for robbing stores, one in the 1970s, one in the 1980s. In 1998, homeless and desperate to feed a heroin addiction, Gary walked into several banks over the course of a week. He wore no disguise and carried no weapon. He demanded money from the tellers and walked out. Gary was quickly arrested and sentenced: Life Without the Possibility of Parole under the "three strikes" act.
When Gary first wrote to Jon, it was a hail mary. Gary wanted to apply for clemency, but had no money to retain a lawyer, having spent nearly 20 years in prison and having little family left. Writing to an established criminal defense attorney was a long shot, but what did he have to lose?
Jon saw something special in Gary. Someone who was using his time in interesting and creative ways. While Gary had always been an artist, his art spent years in the background. But his time in prison focused Gary. He was able to get clean and sober and art reemerged as a force in his life.
It didn't take long for others to notice...
Prison officials asked Gary to paint a mural.
And then another.
And then another.
Soon, Gary was moving all over the state, painting murals in prisons.
Gary went before the Clemency and Pardons Board in June of 2016. His attorney spoke on his behalf. The prosecutor's office appeared in support.
The board voted unanimously to recommend clemency.
And in December of 2016, we heard from the governor's office... the governor would sign off. Gary, previously told he would die in prison, will get a second chance.
Gary will be freed at the end of 2017, releasing directly to a comprehensive, in patient treatment facility, getting real help with his addictions for the first time.
His art remains his guiding light.
He'll tell you all about it over coffee when he's out.
UPDATE: He is!
Gary left prison on December 21st, 2017. He's in a year-long, inpatient treatment facility and doing very well. We'll post updates as we have them. But for now, here's the latest photo of Gary.