P.O. Box 526  |  Harleysville, PA  19438



Charles Zafir Lawson


Charles Lawson is an acclaimed visual artist and co-founder of Art for Justice. Since 1997 his thought provoking art has been featured in over 100 displays and exhibits in the Philadelphia area. Charles Lawson has used his art to stimulate a dialogue about violence, crime and incarceration and to work for transformative change in our communities and in the Criminal Justice System.


Road Map for Life Workshops

Charles Lawson is the co-creator, with AMKirk, of the Road Map for Life Workshops. His art and statements stimulate conversations with young people who are in or at risk of entering the criminal justice system about issues they face in their day-to-day lives. The Workshops have been presented at the Montgomery County Youth Detention Center, in Norristown, PA during the summers of 2012 -2018.  Mr. Lawson offers a cautionary tale, as he tells about his life experiences and his art.


Growing up in Philadelphia I knew the poverty and violence that young people live with every day. Peer pressure was a constant reality and survival was dependent on how you were perceived.


One of my goals is to inspire youth to look at their own talents and turn away from violence which can lead to the halls of the criminal justice system and eventually to prison. If I can inspire just one or two persons, then I can count myself among those who have tried and succeeded.


Charles Lawson’s Coerced Confession

In 1974 17 year old Charles Lawson was handcuffed to a chair and beaten by police. As a result he gave a coerced confession which led to a First Degree Murder conviction. Charles was a juvenile when the coerced confession took place. No parent or legal representative was present during the interrogation. Charles spent four years in prison, appealed the conviction and was granted a new trial. He was then given poor legal counsel to plea bargain to Voluntary Manslaughter with a sentence of 5-15 years (for a crime he did not commit) and agreement of immediate release from prison. Lacking the resources for quality legal services that a new trial would require, Charles Lawson accepted the plea bargain. He later found that while he had plea bargained to Voluntary Manslaughter, written on the record was Third Degree Murder.


Mandatory Sentencing Laws

In 1982 the Pennsylvania Legislature enacted Mandatory Sentencing Laws that required that any person found guilty of a Murder Charge would automatically be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole if that person has a prior murder charge of any kind. In 1990, after a clear and direct threat was made on his life, Charles Lawson’s shot and killed a man. All witnesses testified that the threat had been made. In this case, Charles Lawson was convicted of Third Degree Murder.


Charles Lawson Sentenced to Life without Parole

Because of the previous coerced confession as a juvenile, the ill Advised Plea Bargain to a crime he did not commit, the subsequent conviction to Third Degree Murder and the Mandatory Sentencing, Charles Lawson is serving a sentence of life without parole. His legal appeals have been ongoing, the most recent on January, 2019. He is awaiting the response from the Commonwealth.

Art for Justice - Shows the humanity behind bars. Brings awareness to systemic flaws in the criminal justice system.  Seeks solutions to eliminate injustice.

* Artworks are either privately owned or have been donated to Art for Justice.