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SPECIAL REPORT: Rusk County inmate turns pale jail walls into symbols of freedom

An inmate with a troubled past has turned his pain into art that can only be seen inside the Rusk County jail.

RUSK COUNTY, Texas — An inmate with a troubled past turned his pain into art that can only be seen inside the Rusk County Jail.

With each airbrush stroke, John Rousseau is making the most of his time, by leaving his legacy behind.

"I think it lets them know they are somewhere special," Rousseau said. "I mean yeah they are in jail but this jail is unlike any other jail, it shows that its a jail that cares and you're going to work. They are mindful of your best interest, to help you get out and be successful."

Rousseau started out as a troubled teen, with a drinking problem.

"I was a musician, I played the saxophone," Rousseau recalls. "That's what paid for college where I did computer science. I was working and going to school at UT Tyler for my bachelor's and that's when I got my first DWI and went to prison."

His life was derailed when he chose to get behind the wheel intoxicated. His decision caused him to trade his freedom into time behind bars.

"When I got to prison, that's when I started drawing again, some of us forget all about it, you know, as we kind of lose our imaginations and the adult world takes over, but started drawing again, picked up tattooing," Rousseau said.

Rousseau was released and began his career as a tattoo artist in Henderson, where he was successful in his own business. 

After twenty years of hard work and dedication, his life would change again when he got the news about his brother's death.

"When he died, I turned to alcohol," Rousseau said. "Within six months, I was in jail again, so once again, I'm starting over, because of a bad decision."

A repeat offender, back in jail—for the same reason, driving under the influence.

This time around, Rousseau said he decided not to let alcohol and his poor choices define him, he quickly became an inmate the jail staff could trust.

Rusk County Jail Lt. Cassandra Shaw noted Rousseau is not the average inmate, she said he’s a trustee and has made a name for himself through his art.

"I told him, that's a part of him a legacy," Shaw said. "The art on the wall, I think it's inspiring.

Patriotic drawings, symbols of freedom in a place that's restricted.

Four and a half years into his sentence, Rousseau's appeal was accepted and he will be released from jail by June first.

"I really feel like, each time that I went to jail or prison, I learned something that ultimately made me who I am today," Rousseau said.

The jailers and staff are excited for this next chapter in his life.

"I'm hoping that he can take away from this is that just kind of like a picture there. It's not perfect, it's beautiful, but you got to make the best of what you got and do better," Shaw said.