Lewis C. Gravitt, known as the “Paperman,” displays a paper framework he has created in his work area at Hays State Prison in Trion Ga. Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Inside a small gray room, Lewis Gravitt works for hours at a time, thinking, measuring, cutting and gluing.

The Paperman — as everyone knows him — sits on a white plastic chair with his supplies on a plain plastic table.

He has soft blue eyes behind bifocals, short hair and a trimmed mustache. Tattooed unicorns and skulls start at his wrists and disappear under his shirt sleeves. As he holds the safety scissors it’s easy to notice the faded, tattooed letters on his fingers, but they’re hard to read. Gravitt said they’re something he would get rid of if he could.

With callused, dry hands, he takes a paint brush, dips it into a red Folger’s plastic can filled with Elmer’s glue, then spreads the glue out on cardboard, before he adds a layer of brown paper. He explains that it hides the corrugation of the cardboard, making it easier to give it the texture needed for the life-size deer or parade floats he makes for nonprofit groups and schools.

His creations border on the extraordinary. A spinning tabletop carousel, each horse striking a different pose. A Noah’s ark about 3 feet long, the animals two by two, no bigger than a thumb and finely detailed. A full-size upright piano, so real-looking you’re tempted to walk over and play.

For Gravitt, 46, folding and twisting the paper not only allows him to make something beautiful. As he glues and paints and designs, he also travels.

Sometimes he sticks close to home and goes fishing or hunting in Ellijay, Ga. Sometimes he lets his imagination fly and visits places that have never been or real places he may never get to see.

Because as soon as he leaves that room, the Paperman is again inmate 460297 at Hays State Prison, a close security facility in Trion, Ga., where he is sentenced to spend the rest of his life.

Continue reading at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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