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Death row inmates present their artwork

Kenneth Reams, who is currently an inmate at Varner Unit high-security prison in Arkansas, spoke on the phone with the audience during the keynote speech introducing "Windows on Death Row: Art from Inside and Outside the Prison Walls," an exhibit presenting the artwork of death row inmates.

Reams was involved in a ATM robbery when he was 18 years old and has now served over 20 years in prison. His friend shot and killed a person during the robbery.

“You can end up on death row without having killed anybody,” Anne-Frédérique Widmann, co-founder of Windows on Death Row, said.

Reams said he is committed to staying positive, and he has the power to do something with his life. He started a non-profit in 2012 from prison called Who Decides, Inc., to educate the public about the death penalty through art.

“When you look at specific cases, it touches people more,” said Josh Stevens, a sophomore sociology and political science major, who attended the event. 

The exhibit, which will be displayed from Feb. 2 to March 21, features artwork from political cartoonists and death row inmates. Many art pieces focused on the theme of race and poverty on death row. 

American political cartoonists provided the outside perspective while death row inmates provided the inside perspective by drawing and painting their lives and experiences in prison, Widmann said.

“We believe in the power of images,” Widmann said.

Katherine Kruse, a sophomore biology major, said the artwork showed her how trapped the inmates are.

Widmann, a journalist and documentary filmmaker from Switzerland, and Ndume Olatushani, a former death row inmate, took the audience through the journeys of multiple inmates that have been on death row. 

“Our project is not about crime, its about what comes after. It’s about justice and our collective response to crime,” Widmann said.

Widmann said since 1973, over 150 people have come out of death row because of sufficient evidence of their innocence.

“(Innocent men on death row) is for sure the most unsettling reality of capitol punishment,” said Widmann.

Olatushani is one of these innocent men who spent 28 years in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit. Olatushani said all of the evidence used against him was fabricated.

“Art in a lot of ways, it actually saved my life,” Olatushani said.

Olatushani learned to paint while in prison. He said it was his art that led him to meet his future wife, who coordinated art shows that her ant-death row organization put on.

Olatushani was freed from prison in 2012 after evidence surfaced proving his innocence. 

“As long as we have the death penalty, innocent people are going to be killed,” Olatushani said.

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