COLUMBIA – Glynn Thacker fills his days waiting tables at IHOP and working on airbrush paintings in a motel room.
The job pays the bills, and his living space is a standard room at the Deluxe Inn on Business Loop 70 East.
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But painting is Thacker's ticket to a clean and sober life — one that has eluded him for nearly three decades.
Thacker, 40, has moved from troubled adolescent to member of an itinerant band to aimless hitchhiker, alcoholic, car thief and inmate.
He discovered airbrush painting in a therapy class during a 17-month stint in Moberly Correctional Center after a conviction on vehicle theft charges in April 2011.
Airbrush painting uses a small air-operated tool to spray ink or paint on a surface. Thacker said he was surprised to discover that he was actually good at airbrush work. He said he always knew he had talent for drawing, but he never knew how far he could take it.
"I took to airbrush painting like a fish to water," he said. "It was something that I was completely natural at."
Thacker is working on a portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald's fictional playboy, Jay Gatsby, with a backdrop of modern New York City. Generally, the portraits he does are just for family and friends; eventually he hopes to sell his pieces commercially, but painting in a motel room is challenging.
Because the tools can be loud and intrusive, he can work on his paintings only at certain times of the day. He said it's also not easy to get good natural lighting, especially when it is hazy outside.
"It's difficult, but it's achievable," he said.
A rebellious childhood
Thacker was born in Kansas City, Kan. He said he was rebellious, even as a child. Unlike most children, who tend to admire heroes, he admired the villains.
"When I was a kid, I would start getting into fiction of Jack Kerouac. I always rooted for the bad guy with the heart of gold," Thacker said. "I thought that rebelliousness and doing things against what everyone else said were right for me."
He developed into a troubled teenager and completed school in a youth center, Lawrence Gardner High School in Topeka, Kan.
At 18, he enrolled as a horticulture major at the University of Kansas but dropped out during the first semester. He says he started drinking and doing drugs. After moving to Jacksonville, Fla., in 1994, he eventually joined a Goth band in 1997.
Thacker was a singer, bass player and guitar player for the band Blaquebetty until the group fell apart. The last time Blaquebetty played together was in 2007, he said.
He spent a few years hitchhiking across America before stealing a car in St. Peters, a decision that would land him in prison. It was a cold night in April, and Thacker said he stumbled across a vehicle with keys still in the ignition.
"At that moment, in desperation, I saw the opportunity and took it. Now looking back, I realized how stupid it is to think like that," he said. "I would hope that today I wouldn't make the same mistake."
He was released from prison in November and remains on parole until the end of 2016.
The boredom of incarceration
Thacker found prison tedious, a net where he landed after a series of bad choices. He said he wasted almost a lifetime, even though he knew he was bright and had talent.
"I wish I hadn't taken the first step down the wrong path," he said. "It starts with a little candy bar from the grocery store and ends up as somebody's car."
With the free time he had in prison, he was given two options — figure out a better plan for his life or get sucked further into illicit behavior.
Ultimately, he chose the first option: "I did not dwell on negative things; I dwelled on how I could rise above this."
After Thacker was released from prison, he found a job as a day laborer. Because the job wasn't sufficient to pay the rent, he took a night-shift job at IHOP. He had worked at a Denny's in Jacksonville, which gave him the restaurant experience.
Thacker said that he gets all kinds of customers while working the 10 p.m.-to-4 a.m. shift at IHOP. What he waits for is the post-bar rush.
"We never know what is going to happen," he said. "And that keeps things interesting."
His biggest challenge is overcoming the stigma of his felony. People tend to make snap judgments when they discover his background, he said.
"I need to show people this is part of who I am." Thacker said. "This is what happened to me, but I am making the right choices now. I am choosing to do good."
He also hopes to be able keep in touch with his son, Cein, 9, who lives in California with his ex-wife. They had a turbulent relationship, he said, and she has prevented him from contacting his son.
"At some point, he is gonna want to talk to daddy," Thacker said. "I want to make sure when he does, I am in a place in my life where he can be proud of, too."
Right now, he lives with his girlfriend, Taryn Torres, 27, who recently moved from Jacksonville to join him in Columbia.
Torres said the airbrush painting has changed Thacker for the better.
"It gives him something to do as it is very constructive," she said.
Thacker said his focus is establishing a positive life for the both of them.
"I tell Taryn all the time, our goal is to keep moving forward," he said.
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.