PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The criminal justice system has long been a hot topic in the United States, especially when it comes to the racial demographics of the incarcerated.

What You Need To Know

  • ReIMAGINE is an art show currently being exhibited at the Tully-Levine Gallery at the ArtsXchange

  • The show features art by artists who have been impacted by the criminal justice system

  • Anthony Williams and his brother Christopher are two of the artists featured in the ReIMAGINE exhibit, which runs through the end of February

In Florida, Black residents make up about 17% of the population with almost an even split of half male and female. But when compared to the prison population, and there is a dramatic difference.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Black males make up 45.4% of the prison population; white males make up 35%; and Hispanic males make up 12%.

Those numbers are part of the reason some local leaders want to reimagine how the public views criminal legal system.

In a press release, officials with the Warehouse Arts District Association said the ReIMAGINE exhibit is meant to create dialogue.

“The purpose of this show is to elevate and celebrate these artists who would not traditionally have a platform in art galleries," the release said. "This exhibit will help us to reimagine what is the community’s responsibility in making investments in the processes and systems that support these creative entrepreneurs back home. Their grit, determination, and return to the full well of art and creativity as a tool for radical self-care and survival serves as a model for us all.”

Anthony Williams and his brother Christopher are two of the artists featured. Each artist has been impacted by the criminal legal system.

Anthony said he has never met a paint brush he didn’t want to use.

“By the way, I love to paint like I’m seven years old," he said. "It’s my favorite thing."

Some of his work paints a picture of people he encountered while serving a 13-year prison sentence — like one piece that shows clocks with the number nine all over it.

“The only thing I could think of that was really similar was gold bars," he said. "Gold bars have the number 999 on them in relation to a couple people I know who are serving life sentences whose release day is 9999999."

It’s been eight years since he was released from prison, but Anthony said memories of the people he met there are still as vivid as the colors on his paint palette.

“The people I can personally speak about, they’re not murderers, they didn’t kill people, they didn’t take any lives," he said. "Generally speaking, their economic situation and educational situation is why they are who they are in the first place."

Anthony said he knows the images he’s painted aren’t how most people view inmates or former inmates, but that's why he wants them to take a closer look.

“I believe in crime and punishment, because there are some people who need to be locked away," he said. "But as we know, disproportionately, people who look like me, a younger me, are locked away a lot more often for a lot less reasons."

With the shape of a face that stands out on the canvas, Christopher said he wants the piece of art he's working on to force viewers to look at his experience up close.

“The process of things I’ve seen in life, and I’ve seen a lot of things, but the majority of my life was done in prison,” he said.

There aren’t many broad strokes in his painting on display inside the Tully-Levine Gallery at the ArtsXchange Plaza in St. Petersburg. Christopher said this in particular provides some color to the years he spent behind bars without it.

“I got a strict punishment for being or trying to do something while I was a young man," he said. "I was 23 at the time and I did 28 years on a 30-year bid."

In those 28 years, Christopher said he’s seen the disproportionate statistics of African-American males incarcerated jump right off the page.

“The truth is the truth," he said. "This skin color is being targeted — just look at the statistics. Every other bed there was a Black face there. And when you did see the other face in there, it’s like sprinkles.”

But even staring in the face of all of that, Christopher, his brother and the other artists featured in the exhibit want people to reimagine the way they see those who have spent time behind bars.

Christopher is hoping his art and actions give him the ability to show people his change better than he could tell them.

“I’m redeemable," he said. "Yes I am. I’m here doing what I’m doing now."

The ReIMAGINE exhibit runs through the end of February. On Feb. 22, organizers are hosting a panel discussion with artists and family members to talk about the impacts of the criminal legal system.

To view the exhibit, visit the Tully-Levine Gallery at the ArtsXchange Plaza at 515 22nd St. in South St. Petersburg. 

For more information on the exhibit, visit the Warehouse Arts District Association website.