Tattoo-artist inmate gets gig painting walls for police

OWENSBORO, Ky.- Robert Penrose says he’s applied tattoos to inmates by using the spring from inside an ink pen, the motor from a CD player and alcohol “ink” colored with M&Ms or Skittles.

But deputies at the Daviess County jail put a stop to the illegal practice and gave the 25-year-old Penrose a new palette.

“We found a job where he can use his artistic ability and work by himself,” Lt. Bill Billings told the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer.

Penrose says he has been “inking” family and friends since he was about 15 and has gotten to the point where he can look at a picture and do his work without first making a pattern.

In his initial project for the jail, the Chicago native painted a replica of the new patch deputies will be sewing to the sleeve of their uniforms in coming weeks. The patch can be seen by visitors when they sit in the glass visitation booths in the main lobby.

“I’m more than pleased to do it,” said Penrose, who is serving time for bail jumping, receiving stolen property and second-degree burglary. “I’m in here; at least it takes my mind off of everything else.”

Billings said the next project will be for Penrose to paint the images of a cruiser from each local law enforcement agency in a hallway where officers bring in suspects for booking. He said the mural was chosen as a way to show the unity of the Owensboro Police Department, Daviess County Sheriff’s Department and Kentucky State Police with the jail.

“We look at the same boring walls all the time, and this gives us something positive to look at,” Billings said. “(Officers) will see their cruisers here, and it will show a unity or teamwork concept.”

Jailer David Osborne said there are plans for Penrose to paint scenes of cartoon characters in the lobby to make what could be an intimidating atmosphere a little more child-friendly.

Penrose said he looks forward to painting the cartoons the most because it will remind him of when he painted his sons’ room with Thomas the Train going all the way around the room, from the ceiling to the floor.

After painting graffiti on the outside of buildings while growing up, Penrose said he never thought he would be painting the inside of a jail.

“I take my time and take pride in it,” he said. “I’m going to make it look good for them. … To me, somebody’s going to be talking about me one day and say ‘Yeah, Penrose did that.’ ”

While Penrose is awaiting being placed on home incarceration, he has agreed to come back to the jail three times a week if he is released to finish the paintings.

He admits the paintings are a much simpler process than all the steps it takes to tattoo his colleagues.