March 14, 2022


Criminal Past Provides Motivation for Artist to Help Others. 

BY: George L. Addison, Jr. 

“The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” 

–Bryan Stevenson

When you first meet Carlos Walker, you realize that he is an enthusiastic and positive man with a zest for life and pursuing daily opportunities to present his book and artwork to the world. This may seem like a given until you hear about his personal story and his journey of redemption. 

Artist Carlos Walker looking over his work. Photo Courtesy: C. Walker

A former federal prisoner, Walker served 13 years for selling crack cocaine. While in prison he had plenty of time to reflect on his past and the heartache his actions placed on his parents, siblings and the people purchasing the drugs. He saw selling drugs as a short-cut to financial gain and the good life, but it only brought pain to himself and those around him. 

Walker recalls the mental anguish of being incarcerated and thanks his parents’ love for keeping him sane and focused. Walker said, “I credit my parents, Hilton and Inell Walker, for staying with me while I was incarcerated. They made the long 1,400 mile round trips to visit me, to pray with me, to encourage me. Despite their age and failing health, they persevered and regularly made the journey.” 

Walker said their visits had a profound impact on him. He added, “I remember, getting on my knees and asking God to show me the way to a better life without selling drugs. I wanted to have time to prove to my mom, dad, and siblings that I am a changed man. While in prison, I spent three years learning about Black History and creating my artwork. I never realized it would turn into the opportunity it has. But, God had a plan for me that would give me the redemption I was seeking.” Walker gained further inspiration from the fact that his brother Eric, who smoked crack, went into rehab and changed his life. His sisters Debra, Dee Dee, Luvinia, and Erica were all happy and pulling for him to get out of the drug business. 

What If? Collection (Freddie Gray) by Carlos Walker. Photo Courtesy: C. Walker.

The result was the creation of a book and art series entitled “What If” a collection of 64 pastel drawings that focus on role reversal by white and African Americans, much in the same vein as the movie “White Man’s Burden” where racism, was set in an alternative America where the social and economic positions of Black people and White people are reversed.”  

Walker said his “eureka” moment for the drawings came one day in the yard of a federal prison where he was serving his 20-year sentence. What he observed that day was a black prison guard disciplining a white inmate; a reversal of the traditional power relationship between whites and Black people. This was something he had never witnessed before. Further inspired by the work of his idol, famed artist Jacob Lawrence, and faith in God, he completed the drawings and currently seeks to sell the full collection intact to a collector or museum. 

Meanwhile, other forces were working in Carlos’ favor as well as for thousands of other inmates. On August 3, 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, that is legislation that limits the stiff mandatory minimum sentences for low-level crack cocaine offenses that bipartisan leaders agreed were overly harsh and unjust. The new law significantly reduced the cocaine sentencing quantity disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1 by raising the quantity of crack cocaine necessary to trigger the five- and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences first set in 1986. The legislation also eliminated the mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine. The bill passed unanimously through the Senate and by voice vote with little opposition in the House. 

What If? Collection (Walter Scott) by Carlos Walker. Photo Courtesy: C. Walker.

In addition, The First Step Act (FSA) was signed into law on December 21, 2018, by President Trump. The act was the culmination of a bi-partisan effort to improve criminal justice outcomes, as well as, reduce the size of the federal prison population while also creating mechanisms to maintain public safety. 

Senators Chuck Grassley, Dick Durbin, Cory Booker, and Mike Lee championed the First Step Act in the Senate and built a bipartisan coalition to pass the legislation. In the House, Representatives Doug Collins, Hakeem Jeffries and John Lewis promoted similar legislation, albeit without sentencing reform provisions. Though President Donald Trump was initially skeptical of the legislation, intense lobbying by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner eventually persuaded President Trump to back the bill and push for a floor vote in 2018. Kushner’s efforts included reaching out to the Murdoch family (who own Fox News) to encourage positive coverage, appearing on Fox, securing Vice President Mike Pence’s support, scheduling policy time discussions with Trump, and arranging meetings with celebrities like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian and media players like Van Jones to lobby Trump. (Source: Wikipedia). 

One could call it a perfect storm of the powerful and famous contributing to his early release from prison in 2019. The 40-year-old Walker says, “I was one of the hundreds of federal inmates who had their sentences reduced because of the Fair Sentencing and First Step Act legislation. This was a gift to my parents as well as myself. It afforded me time to spend with my aging parents. Although both are now deceased, they got to see me change my life and to renew the family legacy with pride and respect.” 

What If? Collection (Emmett Till) by Carlos Walker. Photo Courtesy: C. Walker.

Walker says bad decisions have cost him so much in time, personal sacrifices, and opportunity. He is on a mission to inspire and give hope to young people and those who remain incarcerated in the hope they will pursue better lives for themselves and their communities. He also wants to leave a positive legacy for his Five-month-old son Benjamin Messiah Walker.  

So, in many ways, he is just getting started. The hard-earned lessons of incarceration have provided him the foundation to spring anew. To date, he has exhibited his work numerous times at the World Trade Center MvVO Art Show, The Center for Contemporary Political Art, Harlem Fine Arts Show (2022), and has been featured in publications such as Port of Harlem 2021, Mogul Magazine 2020, DC Theater Scene 2020, The Hero’s Journey of Carlos Walker WordPress.com 2016. You might even find him selling his books in front of the Smithsonian African American Museum or at the DC Harbor.

What If? Collection (Tamir Rice) by Carlos Walker. Photo Courtesy: C. Walker.

The Prison Drawings of Carlos Walker present racial role reversal as an antidotal stimulant to the systemic violence, prejudice, and economic inequality that has brought African Americans and the poor onto this country’s streets in major cities across America. 

Walkers’ “What if,” white Americans had to experience, even for a day, the relentless discrimination, social injustices, inequality of income and opportunity, police violence, poverty, and oppression, that African Americans have endured for hundreds of years? Would a fairer more equitable world be the result of such a transference of roles? 

It is a question that will never be answered in this fractured America, but it would be great to aspire to the ideals of fairness and equality for all. Walker believes his work provides white Americans the opportunity to be empathetic and to catch a glimpse into what this reality would be for them if they had to walk in the shoes of African Americans daily?

Such a world would have possibly avoided the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, Rayshard Brooks, Dijon Kizzee, Walter Wallace, Jr., Johnathan Price, Casey Goodson, Jr., Andre Hill, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and countless others. 

Walker believes his work is in its moment of relevance and wants to allow as many people as possible to view and or purchase the collection.  

For more information reach out to Mr. Carlos Walker at Carlos.walker1981@icloud.com.

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  1. Roderick Shaw Says:

    Very impactful. These are great pieces of art, and tell our story in such succinct form, yet so graphic. I hope to help in you telling this story.


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