From Prison to Portraits


After 40 years behind bars, he transitioned his life from prison to portraits.

Veteran Willie Weaver-Bey used art as a source of healing, and a VA program to earn national acclaim.

But Weaver-Bey admits he still has a hard time comprehending all the attention.

“I never had in my wildest imagination that it would turn into this,” says Weaver-Bey, who grew up in St. Louis.

After serving in the Army in the early 70’s, it wasn’t long before Weaver-Bey was serving time in prison for selling drugs.

But during his four decades behind bars, he learned how to paint, and how to heal from his post-traumatic stress.

“From a therapeutic point of view, art is so healing because you can lose yourself in it for hours and hours and hours, and that you can’t buy anywhere,” says Weaver-Bey.

Weaver-Bey displayed 50 of his favorite paintings today at the Green Bay VA Clinic— as part of an art show to promote the VA’s annual Creative Arts Festival competition.

Both Weaver-Bey and fellow veteran Jeffrey McNeil are past national winners.

“It gives you hope, I was isolating, I was depressed and this is almost like taking an anti-depressant,” says McNeil, who grew up in Detroit.

“We see veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress or military sexual trauma and they heal and they have their therapy through the artwork, it helps them talk about it, I’ve met countless veterans who said this literally saved their lives,” adds Milwaukee VA Medical Center spokesperson Gary Kunich.

Beginning later this month, Wisconsin veterans will compete at the local level in more than 150 categories representing the visual and performing arts.

After his release from prison in 2015, Weaver-Bey says the competition changed his life.

“To see people come out and appreciate what you do and it touches them, there’s no words for it, I mean you can try to find words to convey what’s going on but man, this is so much bigger than me,” says Weaver-Bey.

For more information or to sign up for the local creative arts festival, call 414-384-2000, then the following extensions:

Creative Writing and Drama– Christine Wiggin, ext. 41685

Music and Dancing– Sandi McCormick, ext. 41988

Art Show– Marisa Straub, ext. 41976 or Rene Burgoyne, ext. 46575