Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Prison Portrait Guy Goes Wall St.

Kenneth Calvin "K.C." White never reads the Wall Street Journal. So it's funny that last Friday his photo made it to the paper's front page and website. That's K.C. on the left, holding a portrait he drew of convicted Wall St. shyster Bernie Madoff. The photo was taken by my Daily News colleague Sarah Glover and re-printed by the Journal.

Our Prison Portrait Guy Goes Wall St.

Kenneth Calvin "K.C." White never reads the Wall Street Journal. So it's funny that last Friday his photo made it to the paper's  front page and website. That's K.C. on the left, holding a portrait he drew of convicted Wall St. shyster Bernie Madoff. The photo was taken by my Daily News colleague Sarah Glover and re-printed by the Journal.

People Paper readers might remember K.C. from a column I wrote about him in September, just after he was released from Butner Federal Correctional Complex, in Butner, N.C., where he did time for bank robbery and attempted bank robbery in Philly. 

K.C., a self-taught artist, was a celebrity at Butner. His murals colored-up the drab walls all over the prison - the gym, dental clinic, cafeteria, even an administrator's office. He also sketched portraits of fellow inmates and perfected the art of drawing reproductions from photographs. His graphite renderings of Barack Obama, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and Tupac Shakur are shaded so precisely, some look like digital prints.

K.C. was a month from release when he met Madoff, who was shipped to Butner to serve a 150-year sentence for ripping off investors. The two men, K.C. recalls, were standing in a medicine line when Madoff asked K.C. to sketch his portrait.

K.C. did the deed and coaxed Madoff into signing it, but he never gave the finished work to Madoff. Instead, he took it with him when he was released from Butner, hoping the portrait would fetch good money on eBay.  Hoping for publicity about his stunt, he contacted the Daily News, and I wrote his story.  Sarah Glover shot photos of K.C. (and produced a fun video which accompanied my story - click the arrow on the story page).

K.C. wound up in the Journal when a reporter there, having read the Daily News, contaced K.C. to ask him about Madoff's life in the Big House. The paper reprinted Sarah's photo, and that's how K.C. landed on the front page.

He's also landed on his feet since my story ran. He's moved out of a crappy West Philly shelter and into a cozy West Philly rooming house, and he's making an honest living painting murals and sketching portraits. K.C. could always use more work, though, so if you'd like to hire him, click here to visit his web site

As for that Madoff protrait,  it's still for sale. Any takers?

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
About this blog

When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.


Read more from Ronnie Polaneczky at Earth to Philly, the Daily News blog on anything and everything "Green Reach Ronnie at polaner@phillynews.com.

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
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