Former Leeds drug dealer who started painting in prison is now successful artist
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Kevin Devonport, who grew up in Swarcliffe and Seacroft, left school with no qualifications and got his first criminal conviction for shoplifting, aged 15.
Kevin, 49, joined the army aged 17 but started using cannabis and ecstasy and moved on to taking heroin after leaving the forces aged around 21.
He said he started dealing heroin to fund his £100-a-day habit and was jailed for four years in 1996 for possessing heroin with intent to supply.
He has been sentenced to a total of 24 years in prison for drug offences before turning his life around thanks to further education and art.
"It could be said that I was somewhat a career criminal," he said. "However, that is all now in the past."
In 2003 Kevin was jailed for two-and-a-half-years for drug offences.
And in 2008 he was jailed for 13-and-a-half-years for his part in a conspiracy to supply heroin after police seized 4.5 kilos of the drug.
Kevin started an Open University degree in sociology while serving that sentence and also discovered he could paint.
Kevin said he was in HMP Garth in Lancashire when he saw a 'lifer' in the art class painting the figure of a woman.
"The painting he was doing was awesome. I said to myself 'I'm going to be as good as you.'
"I set myself a personal goal to get to the level that lifer was at."
Whilst in prison, Kevin donated paintings to veterans' charity Care after Combat and they raised up to £1,000 each at auction.
His work won a national Koestler Award for arts in criminal justice
The annual Kosteltre Award sees prisons all over the UK submit ijnmates' work, which is exhibited at London's South Bank Centre.
Kevin came third in 2019 with his painting of rubbish.
After leaving his life of crime behind, Kevin now has an artist's studio at Assembly House studios in Armley.
Kevin, who now lives in Brotherton near Knottingley, was brought up in the Seacroft and Swarcliffe areas of east Leeds and went to Temple Moor High School in Halton.
He left school aged 15 with no qualifications and said he was a "little tearaway."
He was convicted of stealing clothes from a shop when he was 15 and was sentenced to a conditional discharge.
Kevin joined the army aged 17 and served as a Chieftain tank gunner in the First Royal Tank Regiment.
He saw active service in Northern Ireland before leaving the army aged 21.
Kevin said he had started going to raves in the early 1990s while serving in the army and started taking cannabis and ecstasy.
He moved back to Swarcliffe and started using heroin before starting to deal in the drug to pay for his £100 a day habit.
In 1996 Kevin was jailed for four years after being convicted of possessing heroin with intent to supply.
Kevin said he was mixing with hardened criminals in prison, which he said is one of the reasons he was "catapulted" into a life of crime.
"When I came out from that it was difficult trying to find work with my criminal record, " he said.
"I just started street dealing again in heroin and I moved from Swarcliffe to Hull and back to Seacroft."
Kevin said he stopped using drugs and started to climb up the criminal career ladder. "I was selling more, reinvesting more," he said.
Kevin said at this point he was dealing heroin and amphetamine.
In 2003 he was convicted of possessing five kilos of amphetamine with intent to supply and jailed for two-and-a-half-years.
He was aged 35 in 2008 when he was convicted of conspiracy to supply heroin after being implicated after police seized 4.5 kilos of the drug in 2007.
He was jailed for 13-and-a-half years.
While serving that sentence, Kevin started studying for an Open University degree in sociology and started painting.
The degree was funded through the Prisoners' Education Trust, but he was released before he could complete the last module.
In February 2018, Kevin was jailed for four years for producing cannabis at properties in Leeds.
He finally finished the degree he had started in 2009 during that sentence and graduated with a first class honours degree in 2019
He said when he came out of the four year sentence at the start of 2020 he applied to do a masters degree in criminology at the University of Leeds and was accepted.
He said he wanted to use his experience of the criminal justice system to try and work in rehabilitation or youth work.
But the course was cancelled due to Covid.
During the first lockdown in April 2020, Kevin said he got in touch with Assembly House artist studios at Armley and was given a residency.
"They have been unbelievable," he said. "They have given me a new social grounding.
"I have found that people around the arts are more accepting than people in general.
"It has given me a goal in life. I couldn't be happier.
"Just being able to get by doing something you love doing, you think you think you have cracked life really."
He said still life is his favourite style of painting. "I do everyday objects, even rubbish, empty crisp packets and cans.
"Even when I was involved in criminality I used to like going to art galleries.
"The interest was there but I never thought I could actually do it."
"I was involved in criminality for so long - all my network was around criminal people.
"I broke away from all my old network. I don't really keep in touch with my old criminal network.
"In the past few months my art has become significantly recognised.
"I have been featured in a number of publications and exhibitions around the country.
"I am currently in the Leeds 2021 summer show and one of my works was on show in a gallery in Central London.
"I have also recently finished work for The Tetley that was part of a bursary that was offered to four Leeds-based artists.
"I have also reached the semi final stages in two competitions featuring artists on an international basis and have recently had a gallery from Milan interested in showing one of my works.
"I think for some reason fate has guided me into becoming an artist as if it wasn’t for the pandemic I wouldn’t be on this path.
"Art has had a major impact for me to turn my life completely around."