Grant Commutation for Illustrated Journalist and Comic Book Creator Orlando Smith

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Orlando Smith is a talented illustrated journalist, graphic artist and comic book creator. He has been incarcerated for 23 years under the draconian Three Strikes Law (https://www.courts.ca.gov/20142.htm for each of the eight counts of robbery against him. Orlando's sentence is 250 years.

We in Orlando's community would like to recommend to the progressive state of California and America, now in a moment of illness and isolation, the gift of critical self-reflection. Our hope is that you will use this moment to better understand and reject systemic injustice and overly harsh sentencing practices now in place.

Despite a hopeless sentence, Orlando has spent a lot of time generating hope in his and others' lives. He has honed his craft as an Illustrated Journalist, and created 63 graphic novels, and illustrated, written, inked and created 748 different characters. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists, and Orlando's work has been published in the Appeal.org, The Davis Vanguard, and the Columbia Journalism Review. As an Artivist, Orlando has produced a Protest Poster series which he has shared with numerous activists and social justice organizations including The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Dr. Cornel West, Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson and Kim Kardashian whom he met when she toured San Quentin's Arts-In-Corrections program where Orlando works and teaches classes.

Orlando's illustrated journalist pieces have been shown and won awards in curated and juried exhibitions including those held by UCLA ("Art and Law for Liberation"), the Art for Justice Fund at the Ford Foundation, Crenshaw Dairy Mart's "Care Not Cages" exhibit, the University of Derby (England), the Los Angeles Liberated Arts Collective, University of San Francisco's Thatcher Gallery. As well, Orlando's work has been published in "Care Not Cages: A People's Guide to Healing", (a collaboration between Prison Renaissance and Decarcerate Alameda County). 

Orlando has created hope for others by teaching art-making in prison and by serving as a discussion leader for numerous years with the House of Yahweh group which explores biblical text as a source of knowledge about resolving conflicts peaceably. He donates his art to raise funds for causes like the ‘San Quentin Women’s Breast Cancer Cares Program, and he has participated in community arts projects with the Berkeley Art Museum, Southern Exposure Art Gallery in San Francisco, and Stanford University.

Orlando Smith has a huge support system of family, friends and fellow artists, as well as of professional people and organizations committed to supporting his transition back into society. Nine comic book companies have written letters of support and recommendation for Orlando.

People tend to view incarceration with an 'us versus them' mentality. It's difficult for people to talk about prison and people who are incarcerated without assuming that they belong there forever. This just is not true. 

We know Orlando well. This is a good man, and this is a man who has served his time. Time to bring this talented human being home. 

LETTER FROM ORLANDO -- FEBRUARY 2020

The Person I Am Today

I would like to explain who I am today as opposed to who I was a little more than two decades ago. My incarceration speaks for itself. Long before that, the root of my thinking was flawed, by entitlement issues, mainly my pursuit of material wealth which fed my hollow ego. My pride was nothing more than a shield to cover my low self-esteem. In the eyes of my peers, I was doing great, but inside I was miserable and felt empty.

I filled my void with drugs. I lived a very high-risk lifestyle and had criminal values, all while suffering with depression and guilt. How did I come to think that nobody mattered but me? Why was it so important to chase after materials wealth to the point of violently robbing people? I am guilty of, and convicted for, robbing at gun-point eight outstanding members of society, my fellow human beings. After my first seven years in prison, I started to question myself, I really started to investigate the role of my thinking in my life situation. I began first by accepting responsibility for my crimes and behavior. I started reading self-help books and moved on towards books on psychology (to better understand my own).

I realized the effects on me of my childhood trauma. This new understanding redoubled my interest in psychology. My thinking process began to change from an unrealistic, self-justified way of thinking to the development of a practical mindset and becoming a forever optimist. 

My self-awareness and cognitive restructuring was a slow process. At first, I felt safe to blame my behavior on drug addiction. I got beyond blaming drugs and my father, to acknowledge my actions. I was choosing to commit crimes. I was choosing not to surrender to my higher power and to allow Yahshua to guide me to peace. I began to draw and write. I was also reading comic books (I love comics). As I began to create my own comic books and characters, I started to see a connection between the heroes and villains in comic books and patterns of psychology in my own life.

Reading Marvel Comics and creating my own line of comic book titles also assisted me to stay away from prison gangs and politics. I developed a work ethic and proactive thoughts. I accepted my reality. I had to focus on what helped me feel strong. Making illustrations and writing helped me think through distorted views and take ownership of my past. 

Art, it's a conduit of growth, a self-focused discipline, and the result is a strong mental self that restricts mental junk food...I saw just how problematic my old way of thinking was...

...Today, self actualization directs my life. I've put it into my mind to go forth as a professional illustrator. I've learned to design covers, characters, storylines, concept storyboards, political comic strips, detailing, background placement, perspective, coloring schemes, inking and I am also an illustrative journalist. I have studied the history of comics. And over the years, I've donated countless of my art pieces under the William James Association. I've developed a Protest Poster Series, and donated posters to various individuals and organizations to show my appreciation including the Ella Baker Center of Human Rights, Initiate Justice, San Francisco Attorney (BASF), UCLA Law School, Uncommon Law, University of Derby England, Art for Justice Fund, Dr. Cornel West, Bryan Stevenson, and Michelle Alexander, just to name a few. I co-teach a graphic novel class in the Arts-In-Corrections program on Sundays and am a lifelong narcotics anonymous sponsor.  

I have written, illustrated and inked 63 graphic novels. The professional skills I have developed are transferable to other industries which use graphic design including magazines, animation companies, and movie studios. 

I am no longer a danger to the public. I have taken responsibility for my actions, and after more than two decades, have reconstructed my thinking and developed into a better human being. I seek to thrive as a mindful citizen, contributing my art. I have a firmness of purpose and that is..."Who you are is what you do, and what you do is who you are".

This is who I am today.

Orlando