“I used it in prison
and I use it today.”
I’d been printing money since I was 15. I had a long run. I’d always try to do the right thing, but then I’d get impatient and I’d start printing. I was 33 when I finally got arrested. I had $500,000 in printed money and I ended up going to prison for six and a half years. What got me through it was this paintbrush, which an inmate gave to me. This brush is my freedom.
They had a painting class in prison. When I joined the class, I was the famous counterfeiter; I was a celebrity. But I had never painted before and when the teacher gave everyone a flower to paint, mine turned out terrible. I said, “I can’t paint no flower,” and I dropped the class. I was out in the yard and the teacher came up to me and said, “You have a way with the colors. What would you want to paint?” I said, “The only thing I want to paint is money.”
I brought in a picture of an 1896 dollar bill. He said it would be too complicated. But we stretched the canvas, like the masters, and I started. The painting took me a year. Painting taught me the thing I was missing the most in my life: patience.
When I first got out of prison I was a janitor, cleaning toilets and making 15 bucks an hour, which was hard because when you’re printing, you’re used to having so much money. But I kept painting and eventually I started getting shows in galleries, and I also have a commercial painting company, Artwrks. Eighty-two percent of people go back to prison after three years. I’ve been out four years.
This brush is a detail brush. I used it in prison and I use it today. It’s for cross-hatching on the edge of the bills and the lines that go around the numbers. This brush has kept me free.