‘Silence’ hopes to inspire “meaningful questions”
Why? Why is God silent when we suffer? It’s a…
I knew Clyde Thompson’s story would die with him if someone didn’t step up to tell it.
Labeled as “the meanest man in Texas,” Clyde Thompson spent years in prison for murder. The son of a one-time Church of Christ preacher in rural Texas was incarcerated for murder when he was 17. Prison authorities gave him the nickname in 1938. He had narrowly escaped death row, but ended up sentenced to three life sentences after he killed two fellow inmates and was involved in an escape attempt where other inmates were killed. He ended up in solitary confinement where he turned to God for help.
Years later, Thompson was released. Through God’s grace, he had changed. He turned his life over to Christ and began ministering to other inmates.
It was after his release that I came to know him.
I was attending the Broadway Church of Christ, in Lubbock, Texas, in 1977, when Thompson came to speak. He shared his story of the crimes and how he finally sought God and redemption during a six-year period while he was in solitary confinement and how he now ministered to those in prison.
I identified with his story of reaching utter powerlessness, seeking God, and the trajectory of my life changing for the better. The bottom of the barrel for me was nearly four years earlier when I seriously contemplated suicide. I was 27 and alcohol had gotten the best of me. It was God that saved me and helped me find sobriety.
As I listened, I pictured Clyde’s dramatic story as a movie showing no matter how low you get in life God can help, if he’s asked. As a journalist, I knew his story could touch lives and even carry a Christian message to the unchurched.
I had no idea how to write a screenplay for a motion picture, but I knew if I didn’t do it no one would.
I approached Clyde through a letter, describing my desire to share his story. A few days later, he called. He had accepted a position as a chaplain at the Lubbock County Jail. He wanted to talk but would need to wait until after his family moved.
We met not long after. He invited me over for dinner — cornbread and turnip greens. His wife, Julia, and daughter, Shirley, were gone for the evening, which gave us a lot of time to talk.
I became a fixture at his house while interviewing him multiple times over the next two years.
Two years after meeting Clyde, and after taking a screenwriting class, I had a completed script. I was ready to take it to Hollywood, to tell Clyde’s story. Just as I was preparing to leave, I heard the news that Clyde had died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 68 at that time.
After getting past the initial shock and grief, I knew I had to follow through with my plans. Clyde’s story had to be told.
The trip out west wasn’t as fruitful as I had hoped; however, I got some sage advice after talking with Billy Graham’s film studio, World Wide Pictures. I was told the film project would have credibility if I first wrote the story as a book.
So, I went home and did just that.
The Meanest Man in Texas book was first published in 1984 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, in Nashville. It went out of print three years later, but was revived by Quarry Press, in Dallas, in 2001. It is still in print today and used by prison ministries across the country.
The message of Clyde Thompson’s story shows that God is still with each of us, that we can still have a relationship with him, despite our circumstances.
During the decades following the book’s initial publishing, I tried every imaginable means of getting the story produced as a movie.
In 2013, I saw a picture of Casey Bond on the cover of Lipscomb’s Alumni Magazine. Bond, a college baseball star, had played for the San Francisco Giants and then turned to acting. He had also partnered with veteran Hollywood producer Brad Wilson in the production company, Higher Purpose Entertainment.
I ended up meeting with Bond and Wilson. They were anxious to produce the movie. We raised the money and went into production in 2016— 39 years after I met Clyde Thompson.
It’s taken some work, but the movie is finally being released.
It’s thrilling for me to see the movie in theaters. More importantly, though, is the possibility that the spiritual message in the film will be shared with those who attend a showing. The message of Clyde Thompson’s story shows that God is still with each of us, that we can still have a relationship with him, despite our circumstances.
The Meanest Man in Texas premiered in Lubbock on April 20, playing to a packed auditorium.
This week, it’s being released to a larger audience, in theaters in Texas, North Carolina, California and Tennessee (see full list below).
The movie has won numerous awards at film festivals in 2017 and 2018, including Best Picture at the International Christian Film Festival.
UPDATE: The movie is now available on DVD and digital download through Amazon.
Don Umphrey is a retired university professor who writes and publishes books and workbooks related to Christian perspectives on addiction recovery. His website is NextStepChristianRecovery.com.
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