Near blind inmate paints murals in Indiana jail

Tommy Earl (WTHI Photo)

KNOX COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) – You’ve heard the phrase, “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Without them, a pitch black world would be your view. And for someone looking into your eyes, what would they see? Knox County jail inmate Tommy Earl lives that world everyday.

“Got caught manufacturing, well, got caught with the items that are used to manufacture [methamphetamine],” said Earl.

As part of a proposed ‘touch up’, Tommy’s fine art skills had been called into play by Knox County Sheriff Mike Morris.

The effort would enlist some of the jail’s inmate artists to paint murals and add coats of paint to the administration offices at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, and paint murals on the jail side of the building.

But, all of this work, would be bitter sweet for Tommy Earl.

“I’m over half blind, one eye I can’t see out of, and the other one is going. I’ve got acute narrow angle glaucoma, eventually, I’ll be completely blind,” said the inmate.

While Tommy didn’t have an exact number of the vision remaining in his ‘good’ eye; he noted that it’s probably about 50 percent.

So how does he do it?

“I don’t know I’ve never, I’ve never been able to answer that question. I’m 43 years old and I don’t know how I do it,” said Earl. “I draw on anything I can get my hands on. I was drawing on the corner of this desk, this weekend,” he said.

Knox County Sheriff Mike Morris’ office is home to Tommy Earl’s newest piece of art. It’s a massive Sheriff’s Badge right above the Sheriff’s desk.

The Sheriff says, he knew about Tommy’s artistic abilities.

“He’s done art work for the Indiana Department of Corrections, and now that he’s here in our facility, we’re utilizing his talents to refurbish our admin side and touching up the jail side,” said Sheriff Morris.

Despite rumors of Morris running one of Southern Indiana’s most strict jails, he says the key is rehabilitation.

“We try to, but, in doing so we have to realize that these people are inmates and eventually will go back into society,” Morris said. “I’m proud of it, it’s distinguishable”

For inmate Tommy Earl, it’s an opportunity to continue to enjoy what he does, while he’s still able.

“I turn on the music, and it doesn’t matter if I’m painting a star, it could be a big black circle, if that’s what I feel like painting at the time, it really doesn’t matter. I’m not no where when I’m painting. I’m just painting,” said Earl. “It’s fine because they told me a year ago, I’d be blind.”

Earl said an upcoming surgery would remove the blind eye; which caused him pain. The offender also joked that even when his ‘good’ eye finally gives out, his family would help him around the house. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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