Derrick Quintero, sentenced to death in 1991 for first-degree murder, is one of the artists who depicted the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
“The piece of art is a commentary on the continuing battle for our collective moral world view. I asked my fellow community members to help me create this project to begin conversation about what justice looks like,” Quintero said.
Even as the artists remained in their cages, their artwork, painted on two long scrolls, was free to travel to churches and other religious institutions with the help of Deacon W. James Booth of Holy Family Catholic Church.
“I think the hope is that the people who believe that death row is populated by unsaveable monsters see in this the work of human hands and people with faith. Many of them have done very bad, terrible things, but our faith teaches us that forgiveness and redemption are always possibilities,” Booth explained.
“Those who see the artwork can take away what they will from it, but it is not meant to be a political statement or push policy. The hope is that it can serve as a bridge of faith between the inmates and the outside world,” he continued.
But, even as the artwork is circulating, the Tennessee State Supreme Court was scheduling a handful of executions for later this year.
“The Catholic Church opposes the death penalty, but that does not mean the people who fill the pews all agree,” Booth said.
Booth abstains from talking policy while facilitating the showing of the Stations of the Cross. Rather, he discusses the men who created the artwork and asks viewers to reflect on the crucifixion of their savior Jesus.
“In my mind, it can be transformative in the way that a visit to Death Row can be. Taking those scrolls out, in a way, does some of that work without some of those individuals having to leave the comfort of their neighborhoods and parishes,” he said.
The artwork, undoubtedly, provoked healthy conversations about Jesus and justice among the prisoners themselves.
Quintero was unsure whether the painting changed the opinions of fellow prisoners, but he believes it has generated conversations that replicate the community model fostered on Death Row.
“We tackle all the positive and destructive issues that were a part of our lives,” Quintero said.
A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Corrections, Neysa Taylor, chimed in on the state’s support of such programs.
“The Tennessee Department of Corrections embraces therapeutic programs that allow offenders to both process and work through their thoughts on their crime and how they can change their lives for the better,” Taylor said.
The artwork impressed Alvaro Manrique Barrenechea when he unrolled the scrolls before him at Christ Church Cathedral, an Episcopal church in downtown Nashville.
“It’s a powerful piece.”