An artist whose work is featured prominently in a downtown Lompoc landmark finally may get a chance to see his art on display.
Fulton Leroy Washington, an inmate at the medium-security federal prison in Lompoc, was among dozens of inmates granted executive clemency this month by President Barack Obama.
During his time in prison, to which he was sentenced in 1997 for life with no chance of parole, Washington painted three murals that are prominently displayed in the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, Washington expressed gratitude to Obama and termed his reprieve as "a second chance at life."
"The real blessing is for my family not to have to experience my death (while being separated from me) by incarceration," Washington wrote. "[Surely] that would have destroyed a spiritual part of them and their faith in our laws and criminal justice system."
Washington’s 31-year-old daughter Erica, who lives in the Los Angeles area, said Monday that she is thrilled at the thought of her father finally re-entering society as a free man.
“I always kept hope, but when we actually got the news, it was just so shocking,” said Erica, who was 10 years old when her father was first locked up. “We had been anticipating it and thinking about it all this time, but it was really overwhelming. We were just like, ‘Oh my gosh, we actually got it.’”
Washington’s reprieve was announced May 5. He is among 306 federal inmates who have had their sentences commuted by Obama since 2009.
Many of those inmates were convicted of drug charges. Washington, who had been living in Compton, was convicted on charges related to possession and manufacturing of PCP.
Washington, 61, gained some local acclaim in the Lompoc area last year when three of his military-themed paintings — depicting the 1923 Honda Point tragedy, the American flag raising at Iwo Jima during World War II and renderings of the country’s military seals — were installed in the recently renovated Veterans Memorial Building.
Frank Grube, a member of the foundation that organized and funded the renovations for the Vets Building, said he and others within the foundation wrote letters of support for Washington’s clemency and were glad to see him granted his release.
“We’re ecstatic,” Grube said. “The guy’s been in prison long enough. He’s been in prison 20-plus years and he’s got no violence in his record or nothing. There’s people who killed people who did less time than he’s doing.”
In his emailed statement, Washington also expressed gratitude for the Lompoc community, including the Veterans Memorial Building Foundation and the Lompoc Mural Society, "for embracing me and allowing me to be an active and contributing part of society while incarcerated."
"They made me feel like I belonged, like I was a member," he added.
Washington’s official release date is set for Sept. 2, but Erica said that documents have been submitted for his immediate release to a halfway house.
The family now is in a holding pattern, she said, as everyone waits to see how that goes.
Erica said that her father likely will transition from the halfway house into her home. She said she is most looking forward to having him there to connect with her own child.
“Having (my son) see his grandfather and be able to spend time with him and make memories — that’s always been my hope,” she said.
In a January 2015 interview conducted inside the Lompoc prison facility, Washington indicated that he planned to continue creating art, a skill he didn’t develop until he was behind bars, for the rest of his life.
“Not ‘if,’ but ‘when’ I get out, I’ll have a talent and something to give to the community that I come into,” he said at that time.
He reinforced that desire in Tuesday's email.
"Today is the first day of the rest of my life, and I intend to do something positive, constructive, and great with every minute and day of it," he wrote. "I intend to continue to paint historic events as they occur throughout my lifetime. I believe that shall be my calling, God willing, that shall be my eternal legacy."