Richard Phillips spent 45 years in prision for a crime he didn't commit. Today, he's a free man,  cleared of a 1971 homicide after an investigation by University of Michigan law students and the Wayne County prosecutor's office.

How do you spend 45-years of your life behind bars, and not go crazy? You paint.

Phillips painted watercolors in his cell: warm landscapes, portraits of famous people like Mother Teresa, vases of flowers, a bassist playing jazz, and on and on, year after year, 400 hundred of them, WZZM TV13 reported.

"I didn't actually think I'd ever be free again. This art is what I did to stay sane," the 73-year-old said.

Phillips could be eligible for more than $2 million under a Michigan law that compensates the wrongly convicted , but the state so far is resisting and the matter is unsettled. So he's displaying roughly 50 of his more than 400 watercolors at an art gallery inside Level One Bank in Ferndale, a Detroit suburb. He's willing to sell them, even though he says, "these are like my children," because, he needs the money.

 

 

"I don't have any money. I don't have a choice. Without this, I'd have a cup on the corner begging for nickels and dimes. I'm too old to get a job."

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy supports Phillips' effort to be compensated for his years in prison. Michigan's new attorney general, Dana Nessel, is reviewing the case. It's complicated because he has a separate disputed conviction in Oakland County that's still on the books, spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said.

Phillips' attorney, Gabi Silver, who has helped him adjust to a life of freedom, said the paintings are inspirational.

"To suffer what he has suffered, to still be able to find good in people and to still be able to see the beauty in life — it's remarkable," she said.