Joseph and His Jesus Trees Outside the Dollar Tree

by Tim Gilmore, 8/29/2021

My name’s Joseph,” he says. “Joseph like in the Bible.”

Outside the Dollar Tree, Joseph shows his Jesus Trees. The manager of the discount chain store lets him set up in the parking lot if he helps keep the parking lot clean.

He’s not homeless, he says. His home is God’s Green Earth. He’s got family, he says, though he’s been in prison a couple times, “More’n a couple times really,” and “They won’t stop bringin’ up the past. Even though my mom, she died ’cause she overdosed on crack.”

He’s an artist, but he doesn’t sell his work. He donates the crosses he’s made to people who make cash donations. He makes the crosses from old tile, pieces of wood, popsicle sticks.

“I do this,” he says, “to show people that God’s not fake.”

He wears long jean shorts and an unbuttoned short sleeved shirt. Tanned leather, he sits behind a fold-up table spraying paint and squeezing epoxy tubes frenetically. He’s painted his bicycle purple, parked it against the small parking lot oak tree behind him.

Small glued-together crosses perch against an old spraypainted department store display panel. A banner painted greens, blues and grays pronounces, “GOD LOVE,” and cardboard signs beneath it say, “God Love all” and “God is Good.” A circular piece of wood stands up from behind the banner. “That’s a halo,” Joseph says.

A tattoo of a cross marks one cheek beneath his eye, a tattooed teardrop the other.

“I been off drugs for seven years,” Joseph says. “I overdosed and died 10 times and 10 times I come back to life. I couldn’t get off drugs, so I gave it to God. The whole problem is they took God outta the schools, so now the police can come and run me off, just because I love God, but they don’t anymore, ’cause I don’t ask for money and I don’t sell nothin’. I just set up right here is all. I just set up right here and I do my work.”