Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jul 2015
Source: New York Post (NY)
Copyright: 2015 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc.
Author: Bob Fredericks


Tony Papa is living proof that a drug offender slapped with a harsh 
sentence for a nonviolent crime can turn his life around if given a 
second chance.

Since he was sprung by then-Gov. George Pataki in 1996 after serving 
12 years of a mandatory 15-years-to-life sentence under New York's 
Rockefeller drug laws, he has had a successful career as a painter, 
author and advocate for a truce in the country's War on Drugs.

"I think it's great. It's putting a spotlight on the issue of mass 
incarceration, that people were put in prison at alarming rates for 
nonviolent drug crimes," Papa told The Post Thursday of President 
Obama's push for sentencing reform.

Papa, 55, was able to turn his life around after a fateful showing of 
his prison paintings at the Whitney Museum of American Art led his to freedom.

He had painted a self-portrait in prison in 1988, and seven years 
later, it wound up on exhibit at the Manhattan museum, drawing 
widespread media attention and public sympathy - leading to Pataki 
granting him clemency months later.

Today, he works with the Drug Policy Alliance, a Manhattan-based 
nonprofit that promotes drug policies based on science, compassion, 
health and human rights. He has pushed for reform on Geraldo Rivera's 
and Catherine Crier's TV shows, and appeared in a documentary on the 
war on drugs with President Bill Clinton.

He's come a long way from when he was locked up - an experience he 
wrote about in his 2004 memoir, "15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom."

Papa owned an auto-repair business in the early 1980s and had never 
been in trouble with the law when a pal from his bowling team asked 
him if he wanted to "make some easy money" delivering an envelope 
holding 4.5 ounces of cocaine to a guy in Mount Vernon.

But the courier who showed up to give him the coke was a police 
informant, and Papa was busted when he arrived in Westchester and 
handed over the package.

Under the Rockefeller laws, he was hit with a 15 -years-to-life 
mandatory sentence.
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