Franklin Co. inmates form bond while painting murals inside jail

Inside the Franklin County Jail are white walls. A splash of light blue here and there. Two inmates changed that.

Giovanny Cruz and Richard Rotter are incarcerated, spending their time doing something not many can do behind bars — painting.

“Makes my time a little better, you know, and keep my mind off of things,” Cruz said. “I’ve always liked to draw. I’ve always liked to write.”

“Kind of gets you away from the part you’re actually in jail,” Rotter said. “It’s been a time where I can heal.”

Rotter had been painting the walls and floors before the idea of a mural came up. His first thought was the sheriff’s office patch, which they would paint together in the middle of the jail.

It led to so much more, including art requests from corrections officers.

“This guy’s pretty good. Let’s get him in there and see what he can do,” Cruz said. “So, we started doing the flag, and another officer likes tanks.”

In the recreation yard, Rotter and Cruz spent about 60 hours painting. Inside are silhouettes paying tribute to the military, which they learned some corrections officers are veterans. On the wall is the POW/MIA flag, the American flag, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, paratroopers, fighter jets, a Navy carrier and much more.

“It was exciting for us to be able to do something like this,” Rotter said.

The duo uses a projector in order to trace the piece on the wall before getting the paintbrush ready.

During their time painting the past two months, a bond was created.

“I watched him grow from the choices he’s made to the choices he’s making now,” Rotter explained about Cruz. “This has all been a learning experience. The time I’ve been able to share with him, the way he’s learning — I’ve really enjoyed it.”

“He’s really put me in a stage where I’ve actually been thinking a lot about being home and being positive myself,” Cruz explained. “He’s smart. He teaches me things and I teach him things.”

The duo said they hope the murals will inspire other inmates to get on the straight and narrow, just like they’re trying to do.

“They sit there and they watch and they envision what they could be or couldn’t be or what they can do,” Cruz said.

“It’s an opportunity for other people to be able to see what we’re doing in here,” Rotter said. “It’s absolutely amazing. It’s a miracle.”

More importantly, they hope it’ll mean something to their families. For Cruz, his fiancée and mother.

“This is a big turnaround for me,” Cruz said. “I want to go home. I want to stay out of here. I want to do positive things. Not only that, help people out there, too.”

For Rotter, he has kids and a mother who has an artistic background, who he spoke to recently.

“She said you can do it, Rich. You got this, get through it,” he said tearfully. “I’m in jail getting my head back together.”

Rotter and Cruz will now paint a room for a new diversion program started by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. Inside, the Lincoln Memorial and a tribute to the 9/11 tragedy. Surrounding those, inspirational quotes.

The diversion program will help six inmates every 10 weeks with getting their GED or a work certification, hopefully allowing them to get work when they get out.

Cruz wants to open a mechanic shop, which he had before he was incarcerated.

Rotter has a construction background, but he hopes what he did in the jail he’ll be able to take outside of it.

He said, “There’s a talent in everybody. They just got to use it in the right way.”