A print of Del Parsons’ Gentle Christ hangs on our family room wall, a gift from Moses S., a Utah State Prison inmate. Moses, an inmate tutor in the education program, brought the rolled print to my office when I taught at the prison. “I want you to have this,” he told me. He’d bought the picture, probably ordering it from the Distribution Center or Deseret Book, but was afraid to keep it. Inmates are relocated frequently and a change in cell mates might permit the picture he treasured to be desecrated or destroyed.
I accepted the print although I knew taking a gift from an inmate violated prison rules and could result in my termination. Moses attended LDS Institute and Sunday meetings, yet his feeling for the picture surprised me.
Every time I look at this picture of Jesus, I see Moses—a short, thin, hyper-active guy in his mid-thirties–complete with freckled nose, buzz haircut, and a grin like a first grader who’s just discovered the teacher’s cache of gummy worms. Descended from Mormon pioneer stock, Moses must have inherited nonconformity from his parents. Mormons name their sons Adam and Aaron, Jacob and Joseph, but never Moses.
A thrill criminal, Moses was serving “the bitch” –the 10 to life sentence given to habitual criminals. He regaled the education staff with tales of his life of crime: Stealing a semi-tractor cab and cruising around until he found an unattended trailer to hook onto— laughing at the thought of the driver coming out and finding his trailer missing in the morning. Robbing a bank with his cousin, being chased by the cops while listening to police reports on a portable shortwave radio, hiding behind a dumpster until a lone cop stopped on the other side to take a leak, then surprising him at this inconvenient moment, cuffing him to the dumpster with his own handcuffs, and stealing the cop car.
I look at the picture of Jesus gazing gently, knowingly, and wonder what Moses is doing now. Surely he’s been released. Has he stayed out of prison? Was his family there for him? I can’t imagine Moses working a routine job anywhere—not Moses with his love for thrills. I really don’t know how Moses would function in normal society. Not that he’s dangerous—he was just Peter Pan, a kid who never grew up. But he was an exemplary Mormon while in prison. I think he bought the print because of the eyes—eyes that could see through Moses’ stories, know he was a flake, and offer unconditional love.