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Conviction to craft: How one man turned his 38-year sentence into 300 works of art

A second chance for an inmate
Posted at 10:31 AM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 10:34:33-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- James Ford is 56 years old and about to have his first art show as a free man.

"I was 17 when I left the streets, I left the streets with a small sentence of five years for petty larceny, stealing ninety dollars," said Ford.

And five years turned into something longer.

"You know prison was real, I had to survive you know, and I made a lot of bad choices inside of prison and I wound up catching 73 years in prison," Ford said. "I stayed there for 38 straight years."

Ford was released on Feb. 6 of 2020. For the 38 years he was incarcerated, he coped by putting ink to paper -- a talent he inherited from family.

But his inspiration came from a deeper source.

"All of my drawings come from pain, you know what I went through on the inside," reflected Ford. "What really kept me in prison for 38 years was myself, the bad choices I made, I made a lot of bad choices. So I started to look within myself and I got into my talent -- got into my talent, and started growing, growing and painting."

The result was 300 drawings.

Most of his drawings were done with only a ink pen. "Jailhouse ink pens," he called them.

Ford also created 20 murals with paint.

He will display some of his drawings at the Nutty Buttery in the Carver District this weekend.

Owner Charleen Baylor features multiple artists as part of the restaurant’s make-up, but one artist is something new.

"Yes, it is different for me," said Baylor. "It’s an opportunity for me to allow someone who has been in such pain and has come out and seem to do so well, and so it was a no-brainer for me to offer this opportunity."

Ford hopes to be a positive light for the younger generation and share his experience.

He said, "What really changed me was when I looked in the mirror. That’s what really changed me."

You can see Ford's Art show Saturday, March 6 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and get more information on the restaurant’s Facebook page.