Day Job/Night Job: Painter Donnie Inman’s Art Gets Him Out of Prison
Written by Ed Attanasio, Autobody News
Published October 18, 2019
If you’re a pot grower, the last thing you want to do is get busted on Marijuana Eradication Day.
It’s irony in its cruelest form, and something Airbrush Artist/Painter Donnie Inman experienced when he was arrested in 2008 for growing 150-plus plants valued at more than $150,000.
Inman, 34, of Chillicothe, Ohio, was a shocked and concerned young man without few options after the arrest. When he was sentenced to eight years for the illegal cultivation of marijuana and sent to the Ross Correctional Institution in Ross County, Ohio, Inman’s future wasn’t bright.
Prison is never fun and even though he’s a big guy and not a violent person, Inman had to fight to avoid being victimized by other inmates. “One guy had issues with me for some reason, so he hired another inmate (known as “hitmen”) to give me a beating, he said. “But, someone tipped me off and I was waiting when the hitman came to my cell. Let’s just put it this way—I had to deal with it and no one there messed with me anymore.”
Dissuaded but not defeated, Inman began using his artistic skills to rise above the havoc of daily prison life. “All I had was some pencils and paper and got into the prison’s art program,” he said. “Pretty soon, people were looking at my artwork and the assistant warden really liked some of my stuff.”
After painting a mural that was well-received by prison administrators, Inman decided to ask for airbrush equipment and supplies, he said. “The assistant warden was impressed by my work and was very supportive. She pulled some strings and got me an air compressor and some airbrushes, even though my parents paid for it. It was awesome and once I had the equipment, I began painting everything—canvasses, motorcycles, helmets, t-shirts, you name it!”
With 17 months still left on his sentence, Inman received an early release in 2016, surprising literally everyone, including himself. When Ross County Common Pleas Judge Michael Ater gave him the great news, Inman, he knew that this was an amazing gift and a golden opportunity to change his life.
“I had learned everything I could about airbrushing from a fellow inmate, so when I got released, I was hungry to get better,” he said. “Making a living was the priority, but I knew my art would always be a big part of my life from now on.”
With the airbrushing, refinishing and basic collision repair skills that he attained while in prison, Inman landed a job airbrushing motorcycles and helmets at Lynch Concepts Custom Auto Design in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Finding employment is not easy for someone with a criminal record, but within just a few days after his release, Inman had two jobs. “I was working 90 hours every week—at McDonald's during the day and at the body shop from 4 p.m. until past midnight,” he said. “My goal was to get enough money for my auto body supplies and airbrush supplies, so that I could take my art to the next level.”
Inman is grateful for the skills he attained while in prison through an art program, and collision repair classes, he said. “My skills got me a job at a body shop,” he said. “I’m never afraid to learn new things, like doing rust repairs, painting techniques, candies, car restorations—and it all started while I was inside.”
Inman has leveraged his art career to the max and is now nationally known for his airbrushed t-shirts, murals and portraits. To give back, he often uses his creations to raise money for non-profit organizations that are close to his heart. He often donates to the Barren River Child Advocacy Center, Autism Speaks and Make-A-Wish in his hometown by offering his work for auction.
A few years ago, Inman was able to quit his fast-food job and enter the entrepreneurial world with Donnie's Exclusive Graphics and Design. With his work featured in several publications, including USA Today, Urban Ink, Airbrush, and Whitetail, among others, Inman is poised and prepared to take things even further.
With prison now in his rearview mirror, Inman is looking to refine his techniques while experimenting with other mediums, he said. “I look back at my time in prison, and it wasn’t a great experience, that’s for sure. But I got a skill that I can use the rest of my life. I want to continue making art and expand on what they taught me. In fact, right now I am working as an apprentice to become a tattoo artist.”