Former death row inmate finds peace with paintbrush - WSMV News 4

Former death row inmate finds peace with paintbrush

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Ndume Olatushani Ndume Olatushani

A man who spent 28 years in prison, much of it on death row, for a crime authorities now believe he didn't commit is overcoming adversity with the help of a paintbrush.

Ndume Olatushani doesn't spend a second of his time these days being bitter, but he easily could. He was convicted of murder, but new evidence two years ago led to his freedom.

His paintings became his eyes to the outside world when all he could see was the inside of a 4'x8' prison cell.

"The thing about painting is you're always learning something," Olatushani said. "Painting saved my life. It really did."

Olatushani started reading every book he could get his hands on, by authors like Shakespeare and W.E.B. Du Bois. He wanted to learn and absorb something he never knew as a young man.

"Education is important. Education is freedom. Once you get education, it can't be taken from you. It allows you to make choices as opposed to impulsive decisions," he said.

That message is now his life's work for the Children's Defense Fund, mentoring at-risk teenagers in Nashville high schools and helping them find the right path.

"They'd tend to listen to someone like me before their mother teacher or preacher," Olatushani said. "I think I've got a responsibility to say to young people, 'Listen, you can do something. You don't have to fall into this trap.'"

Olatushani works full time for the Children's Defense Fund in Nashville. It's a nonprofit, non-government organization that promotes programs to help lift children out of poverty.

The group's motto is "Every step taken to improve the lives of children improves the life of all of us."

Olatushani's paintings are now on display at the Avon Williams Library on the Tennessee State University campus.

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