Saturday, 24 March 2007

Painter tells of death row shock

Painter tells of death row shock

A woman planning to paint condemned men on Death Row in America has returned from the States shocked by her experiences.

Claire Phillips, 43, spent ten days touring the Deep South and visiting maximum security prisons where inmates were killed by electric chair or lethal injection.

She said it has been an emotionally challenging trip, especially when meeting men awaiting execution.

Mrs Phillips, who graduated from Northbrook College, Worthing, met three prisoners, including two on Death Row.

She also talked to and took photographs of three men who spent between six and eight years awaiting execution before they were cleared, plus the brother of a British man who was killed despite begging for DNA evidence to be tested to prove his innocence.

Mrs Phillips, of High Street, Partridge Green, said it was very intimidating in prison, with armed guards in watchtowers and huge rolls of razor wire.

It sometimes took an hour to get through security, with lots of waiting around, before she could conduct an interview through bullet-proof glass with prisoners shackled in chains.

Mrs Phillips said many of the inmates had committed awful crimes, but she was also shocked by the miscarriages of justice she encountered.

She met a warden who had the job of carrying out executions, but was convinced that one of those killed was innocent.

Mrs Phillips travelled through Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas, well off the tourist trail, and was struck by how poor many people were.

The married mother-of-three's trip was funded by a £5,000 grant from the Arts Council.

She now plans to spend the next two years painting her subjects in oils using sketches taken at the time, photographs and video footage.

Mrs Phillips was inspired by the British charity Reprieve, run by civil rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, which provides legal representation for people on Death Row.

It's patron is veteran journalist Charles Wheeler, whom she has painted.

Mrs Phillips said she could not draw Death Row prisoners inside gaol but as soon as she got outside she sketched frantically from memory in a bid to record their likenesses.

She hoped her portraits, once finished, would go on show in a London gallery to make people think about the death penalty.

Mrs Phillips also visited flood-devastated New Orleans.

She said: "It was quite shocking. There are huge areas of boarded up houses, completely abandoned, and people living in trailers."

10:53am Thursday 22nd March 2007

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