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Life sentence commuted for inmate, artist Arkee Chaney

While incarcerated, Chaney’s interest turned to art — something he was unable to pursue before his conviction. He’d told his lawyers that “everything would have been different if he had been able to pursue art earlier.”

Arkee Chaney leaves the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg on Tuesday. He spent 31 years in prison after he was convicted of armed robbery in the late 1980s.
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After spending the last 31 years behind bars for his third armed robbery conviction, Arkee Chaney walked out of Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg on Tuesday a free man.

Chaney, 76, was sentenced to life in the late 1980s after he and another man robbed a disabled cab driver at knifepoint on the Far South Side.

It was Chaney’s third armed robbery conviction, and his attorneys said the robbery was carried out to help Chaney’s sister cover her rent payments.

But this week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker commuted Chaney’s sentence, according to Chaney’s attorneys. Pritzker’s office didn’t respond to inquiries Tuesday evening.

While incarcerated, Chaney’s interest turned to art — something he was unable to pursue before his conviction. He’d told his lawyers that “everything would have been different if he had been able to pursue art earlier.”

Chaney’s art “focuses on his experience as an African-American and reflects African themes,” according to his attorneys.

Chaney’s first medium was ceramics, and with the encouragement of Dr. Margaret Taylor-Burroughs — the founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History in Washington Park — Chaney soon branched out to painting.

While in prison, Chaney donated his work to schools and government buildings throughout Illinois.