“When I met him earlier this year, James ‘Yaya’ Hough was surrounded by white buckets of blue and orange paint, working in the downtown Philadelphia studio that came — before coronavirus — along with the first-ever artist residency at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. He was focused on one of his portraits of various lawyers, victims’ rights advocates, judges and formerly incarcerated people now on display around the city in an exhibition called Points of Connection.
‘I’ve been an artist since I was a child,’ Hough told me, recalling life-changing trips to the Carnegie Museum of Art in his hometown of Pittsburgh. ‘But unfortunately, I grew up in a very dysfunctional environment that led me, in the worst of ways, to become involved with crime and violence to the point where, by the time I was 17 years old, I was arrested, charged and convicted for killing a man, over nothing justifiable.’
Hough, now 46, is soft faced and soft spoken. He served 27 years in prison. Hough’s release came in the wake of a 2012 Supreme Court case brought by renowned civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson that ruled juvenile life sentences, like Hough’s, unconstitutional. In prison, Hough had been extremely involved with the arts – painting portraits of fellow prisoners as gifts, and taking classes with Mural Arts Philadelphia, the largest public art program in the country.”
-by Neda Ulaby, All Things Considered.
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