Photos: Jinele New & Jina Girolamo, Mimi J’s Photography

Photos: Jinele New & Jina Girolamo, Mimi J’s Photography


“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.

Art Williams
Artist, painter, and counterfeiter of the most secure banknote ever created
Bridgeport, IL

Previous STORYNext Story