Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt
Divine Word Missionaries
The late Dennis Newton was the Director of Divine Word Missionaries. And Chris’ friend. Together they published two novels, a history book, and two children’s books. Dennis’ organization hosted many charities that sponsored the needy all over the world. These programs, created by Dennis and the Divine Word administration, were assigned to missionaries who, with the help of volunteers, took care of business. Chris was fortunate enough to be a part of several of these charities; Dennis included him knowing his artwork would be a contribution.
Mother Antonia is a nun that lives with prisoners in Mexico. She was once a well-known socialite in Hollywood, but gave it all up to take care of prisoners who existed in a deadly, notorious place. Mother Antonia was honored by a charity hosted by Divine Word in 2009. During the event she was presented with a portrait of her drawn by Chris. She framed it and added it to her extensive collection of artwork done by prisoners who appreciate her efforts. That portrait presentation was a success, so Dennis asked Chris to do others. Another example is the CEO of Sunset Foods, a successful, generous businessman that was honored in a 2009 Divine Word charity.
Kids For Kids
A few years later Dennis had the idea to promote charities for kids using children’s coloring and activity books. One program he created, called Kids for Kids, brought attention to Orissa, India, where, in 2008, radical Hindus wiped out villages of Christians. Tens of thousands of widows and orphans were without food and shelter. Divine Word Farms raised goats (young goats are called “kids”) to sell so their missionaries in Orissa could build a school for the kids. It was a successful endeavor.
Check out the children’s book, Meet Bob and His Cousin Banu, written by Dennis and illustrated by Chris, which was used to promote the charity.
Full Coloring Book Here: Bob Banu Coloring Book
Joymakers was another successful program implemented by Dennis. It was a toy shop on a Divine Word Farm in Iowa run by volunteers. The toys were sent to children around the world, including the Philippines, Jamaica and India. Chris was asked to illustrate the Joymakers coloring book for the promotion.
Full Coloring Book Here: Joy Makers Coloring Book
“Generally speaking, our prisoners were capable of loving animals, and if they had been allowed they would have delighted to rear large numbers of domestic animals and birds in the prison. And I wonder what other activity could better have softened and refined their harsh and brutal natures than this. But it was not allowed. Neither the regulations nor the nature of the prison made it possible.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead
Sent With Love Projekt
More on Chris’ work with Sent With Love – including his help in organizing a zone-wide Christmas meal – coming soon.
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth.” ― William Faulkner
Every DOC has problems. Finding resolutions, even for the least significant issues, can become drawn out wars. The majority are impossible to win. Verbal complaints become grievance forms, a multi-month paper filing assault of the DOC’s integrity that often backfires; prison administrators are not shy about “dissuading” inmates from pursuing litigation against them. Retaliations are usually done within the rules, though the prison staff and inmates both know it is intentional harassment.
Fighting for prisoner’s rights can have consequences. Prisoners willing to accept life becoming more inconvenient and hostile – besides the time invested to study and write legal arguments – improve their chances at winning meaningful resolutions that affect quality of life. In the MDOC, Chris learned that battles won are often short lived, granting reprieves for a few years at most. New battles are old problems, and the losing side of the war is inevitably the convicted. Chris rarely gets involved in grievances or litigation; there are so many issues that it would consume his life. He was a contributor to a few meaningful civil suits, however, and learned enough to help other prisoners write filings that got them in court.
Presley v. Epps
Presley vs. Epps was a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of several Death Row and High Risk prisoners. Chris was not a class action defendant, though worked closely with the defendants providing the ACLU with detailed documentation of the inhumane conditions, such as use of excessive force by security staff, sub par medical and mental health care and the unsanitary food service. Chris and Roy Harper, a Class Action member, recruited other prisoners in different areas of Unit 32 to keep similar documentation to show the court how widespread the problems were.
The suit was settled without trial, ultimately leading to the closing down of Mississippi’s Supermax, Unit 32, and granted long-term segregation prisoners incentive programs that allows them to work their way to more freedoms and privileges through good behavior. You can read more about Presley Vs. Epps, and the related efforts in the campaign to reform solitary confinement in our nation’s prisons here: ACLU: Presley v. Epps.
Bennet Vs Lee
The Bennet vs. Lee civil action was filed in 2013 by Director Cliff Johnson of the MacArthur Justice Center on behalf of Devin Bennet, a prisoner on Mississippi’s Death Row. The case was settled without trial in 2015. The agreement granted more privileges to Death Row prisoners, such as basketball courts, and improved the housing conditions; Parchman Administration renovated the dilapidated building that houses Death Row and High Risk, replacing the windows, repairing a severely damaged and leaking roof, among other repairs that added up to an inhumane environment. Chris wrote the original 1983 filing and helped Devin and Mr. Johnson with subsequent filings and strategy.
Share Some Love