Terms like “hair-raising” and “incredible” are often thrown out casually but Temple’s experiences give full meaning to the words as he has repeatedly faced death and ultimately found redemption.
The Tupelo native and retired narcotics officer has tied all of this together in a novel that is getting good reviews and may soon be turned into a feature film.
Temple shared his experiences at the Union County Heritage Museum this past Thursday.
“Coming back to New Albany brought back all sorts of memories,” he said. In the early 1970s, Temple worked with Union County Sheriff Joe Bryant and then-District Attorney Talmadge Littlejohn on many cases. He recalled being closeted with Littlejohn one time working on cases, assuming no one else really knew where he was, when he received a phone call from UM Athletic Director Johnny Vaught. “He was calling about a rumor that some of his athletes were about to be arrested,” Temple said, “but of course I could not tell him anything.”
A lot has happened to Temple since those days, and his life has changed. More recently, he has been promoting his book – his first – titled, “A Ghostly Shade of Pale.”
“Judy (his wife) and I have had a great time going all over America,” he said. “I promised the Lord I would write three books and the second one will probably be done in October.”
It will be called “A Rented World,” and the third will be “Redeemed.”
“Writing it has caused me a lot of pain,” he said. “But the Lord has opened doors for me and a promise to the Lord you don’t break.”
Temple attended Ole Miss and got out of school about the time President Richard Nixon was starting his “war on drugs.” He decided to sign on as one of Mississippi’s first designated narcotics officers with the fledgling Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, working undercover mostly. “It was exciting,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
In those days, the unit was small and an agent usually couldn’t count on backup in an emergency, “because there really wasn’t any – you were on your own,” he said.
Temple recounted one incident where he was undercover at Tylertown when he allowed drug dealers to get in the car with him. They drove him out to the middle of nowhere to a small shack on stilts and one put a pistol to his head and the other a shotgun to his stomach. Some of the things he saw then he includes in his book and are so horrific a district attorney acquaintance said they were just too unbelievable for a movie until Temple confirmed they really happened. “Images of my life really did flash past my mind,” he said, knowing he could die at any moment.
To learn what happened, he said, read his book.
Temple was the first narcotics field agent outside Jackson and in the 1970s some of the activity he saw south of Memphis mirrored that of what Buford Pusser faced in “Walking Tall.” “Some of the same Dixie Mafia were involved,” Temple said and at one location they had a bar with rigged gambling, prostitution and drugs sold table to table. If the mob couldn’t get a patron’s money any other way they would “jam” them, which Temple described as giving them beer that scopolamine had secretly been injected into and then wait until they were too drugged to resist.
Temple was later told that these Dixie Mafia and other criminals were even then pooling their resources to put a contract out on Temple’s life. The attempt was set for the then-isolated Horn Lake exit but Temple’s wits saved him.
He said he was young, thought he was invulnerable, and made mistakes he should not have survived. One day he and other agents were going on a big bust when something strange happened to him.
“God scared me to death,” Temple said, as he was leaving at the time. “He commanded me to go back and get the bullet-proof vests.”
Temple resisted at first but did retrieve the vests. “They let it get away from them,” he said of the officers making the arrest. “They (the drug dealers) had a sniper with a rifle up on a hill and he rained fire down on us. It was a terrible day.” Men on both sides were shot and died but the heavy vests Temple had been commanded to get paid off.
“Work was a crusade in those days,” he said.
It was politics that caused him to leave. “There were some corrupt politicians that wanted to clip our wings.” They forced their own man into the organization but that was leaked to the Clarion-Ledger and made headlines. Still, Temple said, witness tampering occurred and he learned that these same politicians were working on ways to frame him.
He worked for the Bell System in Georgia and in high-level political campaigns before turning to writing.
“Some famous people will be in book two,” he said, referring to work on it as “cleaning out closets.”
He said the origin of the title for the second book refers to our just passing through this life on the way to eternity in just a “rented world.”
But the repeated commands that day about the bullet-proofs vest changed his life concerning God, he said, and put him on the road to eventually writing.
“I try to bring it all together and honor the people I served with,” he said.
Temple’s book has been received well and he has already sold close to 1,000 copies in Tupelo at a book signing alone. “That’s pretty good for a first-time author,” he said.
Reed’s owner Jack Reed Sr., who gave a strong boost to the career of John Grisham, declared Temple’s book “like Grisham – only better” and Temple has received encouragement from someone else with significant implications.
Temple asked Jim Clemente to read his book before printing.
Clemente is a former FBI agent who worked in the Behavioral Analysis Unit and has since become a writer, producer and consultant for the TV series, “Criminal Minds,” based on that unit. Temple said that after Clemente read the book he called and told Temple that he is “a great writer of American literature.”
What followed was a trip to Hollywood for Temple to meet with Clemente and spend time with high-level producers concerning the possibility of making his book a movie.
“Four weeks ago I had dinner with Morgan Freeman,” he said. “And now we are waiting to see what happens.” He said Clemente will do the screenplay (something most writers can’t do well with their own work) and is optimistic that he will see a good result.
“I think I hit if off with Morgan. We are both from Mississippi,” he said, and that is his best bet “unless a Christian producer picks it up.”
“It’s a big, scary crime story, but there is no profanity, no explicit sex,” Temple said, even though he expects Hollywood to try to pressure him into adding that. “There’s not enough gold in Beverly Hills to turn my head,” he said. “I wanted to write a book that I wouldn’t be ashamed for my mother and my English teacher to read.”
Writing is not easy, he said. “When you write a lot, you get so sick of it,” he said, and that happened. He thought his writing was stale, dead, but then went back and started added descriptors and said he has been told now that it is “more like reading a movie.”
“You don’t have to write every day,” he said, although that has been traditional advice to aspiring authors. “I just wait on the Holy Spirit to start downloading from above and try to keep up.”
Temple feels God’s help in many other ways, he said. He has gotten excellent exposure for his testimony and message through American Family Radio and also with Frank Sontag and KKLA radio, considered the largest faith-based station in the country.
“This certainly isn’t what I expected in my retirement years,” he said.
“I should have died or turned into a really bitter old man.”
After looking around he and his wife decided to start their own publishing company rather than dealing with another and named it “Southern Literature Publishing.” “There’s something to say for controlling your own destiny,” he said and they are now working with other southern authors to help them, too.
“I want to get my message out but not at the cost of dishonoring God,” he said. “I trust God. He will make a way.”
Temple’s book is available at most area bookstores, amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. For more information, go to http://www.merletemple.com