“Everywhere I had an address, I would send them,” Hutchins said, adding that he rarely received a reply. “I did it to pass the time away. We spent almost 23 hours a day in the cell, and that was part of my escape.”
Hutchins spent two years in jail awaiting trial, then was found not guilty of the charges against him and was released in 2015.
Once he got out of jail, he got right back to work at Infinity Studio, an art studio in Santa Monica, Calif., where he was an artist in residence for five years before being in jail.
Just as his life was finally getting on track again, the studio — along with Hutchins’s valuable artwork — was demolished in a fire in December 2015.
“It destroyed my life,” Hutchins said. “I lost about 800 pieces of work; my sketches, my finished paintings.”
He hopped from hotel to hotel until he drained his savings, and before long, Hutchins found himself sleeping on the streets of Skid Row. He was homeless for six years — until a chance encounter at a grocery store parking lot in April changed everything.
Charlie “Rocket” Jabaley — an entrepreneur and former music manager — pulled up in his blue Jeep on Easter Sunday. Hutchins struck up a casual conversation with him.
“I like your car,” he hollered to Jabaley, 33, who was with a friend at the time.
They bantered about the car, and quickly bonded over the fact that they were both born in Atlanta.
“His energy was just so bright. It made me want to talk to him,” Jabaley said of Hutchins.
The friendly exchange flowed naturally. Hutchins told Jabaley about his humble upbringing and how his family lived in public housing. He worked in the cotton fields after school with his older sister. There was little time for fun, he said, but he spent every spare moment making art.
“During a lunch break or dinner break, I would sit down and take brown lunch bags and use twigs from the fire and draw charcoal figures,” Hutchins said. “My passion for art started very early in life.”
His uncle was an artist, and “I used to look over his shoulder and see what he was doing. I would try to imitate him,” he added.
Hutchins got involved with the wrong crowd and ended up spending stints in jail.
He moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles in 1992 and began his career as a professional artist. He said he created custom pieces for celebrity clients under the alias Drew Hill — which was the name of a former NFL football player. He thought using that name would get attention.
He was right, but after he found himself in jail and his career was shattered, Hutchins decided he would use his real name once he finally got out.
Jabaley was touched by the stranger’s story. What moved him most, he said, was Hutchins’s relentless drive to carry on with his craft despite all the hardships he faced.
As the conversation continued, Jabaley, who runs a nonprofit called the Dream Machine that works to help people in need pursue their goals, asked Hutchins: “What’s your dream?”
Hutchins shared his long-held wish to one day see his work in an art gallery or museum.
At the end of their unexpected interaction, Jabaley asked Hutchins for his phone number, and the following day, he took him to an art store and bought him $2,000 worth of supplies.
“I told him to get what he needed and not to worry about it,” Jabaley recalled.
For Hutchins, the offer was overwhelming.
“I didn’t know this man for 24 hours, and he put my life on a new path,” Hutchins said.
Jabaley didn’t stop at supplies; he had several more surprises in store. He started by creating an official website for Hutchins, which he called Richard Hutchins Studio.
Then, on June 24, Jabaley organized an elaborate, red carpet event at a Beverly Hills hotel to showcase Hutchins’s artwork, which included portraits he made while he was homeless and stored with a friend. That night, Hutchins sold several paintings. One piece went for $23,000, he said.
“I haven’t gotten over that yet,” said Hutchins, who now has more than 145,000 followers on Instagram. “I can’t believe I’m a famous artist now.”
Hutchins is using his newfound fame and fortune to benefit others. While he is now financially stable and has his own home in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood — where he created an art studio for himself — he vowed to prioritize giving back to the homeless community in Los Angeles, and he has also given away free artwork.
“Most of the money that I earn is going toward bringing people off the streets,” he said.
Hutchins is in the process of setting up a nonprofit foundation, named after his late mother, Jessie Hutchins, with the goal of supporting people who find themselves stuck in the same cycle of poverty that he found himself in for many years.
“Most people don’t know what it feels like to be stepped over on the sidewalk,” Hutchins said. “Until I can see something different out there, I’m going to continue fighting for this.”
Meeting Jabaley — who he now considers a dear friend — affirmed that “there are so many generous people in this world,” he said, adding that the kindness and commitment a stranger showed him has motivated him to help others, too.
“I don’t care what it takes. I’m going to make a change,” Hutchins said.
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