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By using science usually in the form of DNA evidence Innocence Projects around the nation have freed more than 270 men and women across the United States who were wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
Now, that use of science has led to a unique art exhibit currently on view at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center: Illustrated Truth: Expressions of Wrongful Conviction currently on display through July 9, 2011.
The exhibit opened on April 7, 2011, in conjunction with the
of Innocence Projects hosted by the University of Cincinnati The 2011 Innocence Network Conference: An International Exploration of Wrongful Conviction. The event drew about 100 international exonerees (individuals freed after being wrongfully incarcerated) and about 500 scholars, researchers, legal specialists and students from about 40 law schools. Law schools generally serve as the institutional homes of Innocence Projects. For instance, UCs College of Law houses the Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), led by Mark Godsey, the Donald P. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Director of the
A painting UCs Godsey received from an OIP client Roger Dean Gillespie became the genesis for the Illustrated Truth exhibit. Explained Godsey, The painting, titled As Long As There Is One, depicts a Native American warrior. It hangs on the wall outside my bedroom at home. Its the first thing I see when I walk out of my room each morning to start the day. Seeing the painting helps me to overcome the exhaustion and burnout inherent in a line of work that has steep, uphill battles every day.
For Godsey, such art is a conversation between the wrongfully incarcerated and our wider society: "The wrongfully convicted have important things to say, and it is clear that art is a particularly powerful and effective way for them to say it."
The painting by Gillespie is included in the Illustrated Truth exhibit, as are artwork, poetry, photos, letters and other literary works by 28 exonerees, many of them completed during their imprisonment.
Of the 28 exonerees exhibiting works, four are individuals freed thanks to the efforts of the Ohio Innocence Project housed at UC. These four Ohio exonerees exhibiting works are
While Towler had taken art classes in elementary school, he learned to paint from other inmates while in prison. He said, In prison, I moved to painting with acrylics and oils. It might seem odd to say, but in prison, we were a community. Those more advanced in painting taught those who were less advanced. I learned a lot about painting from fellow inmates, though it required a lot of work and study.
Towler added that he turned to painting because it was the most expressive means he could find to communicate. He says simply, Color can talk.
He recalls that he painted almost every day for the nearly 30 years he was wrongfully imprisoned, creating literally thousands of paintings that were then given as gifts, bartered or sold for token amounts.
Painting takes you away from that place. Its like youre not incarcerated while youre painting. I loved the process of painting so much, of first conceiving of a piece, planning for the materials and how it will be completed, he states.
He adds that now he is finally free, There is a lot of emotion in being reunited with my art. I can visit friends and family that I gave paintings to and see those paintings whenever I want. I couldnt do that before. Once I let go of a work in prison, it was gone forever.
In a similar vein, the Illustrated Truth exhibit reunites exoneree
of Virginia with a sketch and plant pressings she created while serving 11 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. It includes a sketch of her cell, a sketch titled Dream Home, and cards she sent from prison with plant pressings to friends and family.
She recalls, The plants were contraband. There was nothing natural or beautiful in prison. In the yard were a few weeds, wood pansies, grasses, dandelions and clovers that I secretly pressed in a German dictionary. I used toothpaste for glue to make the cards and send them out.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Ticket prices are $12 for adults; $10 for seniors aged 60 or over, educators and students with an ID; $8 for children aged 6-12. Children 5 or under are admitted free. For more information, call the Freedom Center at 513-333-7500 or toll free at 877-648-4838.
Students and faculty from the University of Cincinnatis College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP)