Even during his chow break at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Lt. Col. Michael Verrett, a former homicide detective, takes along pad and pens to work on his drawings.

Even during his chow break at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Lt. Col. Michael Verrett, a former homicide detective, takes along pad and pens to work on his drawings. (Photo provided by Michael Verrett)

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — A lot of men in the Louisiana penitentiary might just wish that Lt. Col. Michael Verrett had stuck to drawing Mickey Mouse.

Coming out of high school in the South, Verrett wanted two things out of life: to work as an artist for the Walt Disney Corp., and to play college baseball at Louisiana State University.

“But Disney wasn’t hiring, and LSU wasn’t giving baseball scholarships,” said Verrett, 46. “So I got a job with the police department.”

Verrett’s career has taken a few twists and turns over the years. He went on to become one of Baton Rouge’s best-known homicide detectives, then added the duties of police sketch artist. Five years ago, he began writing and illustrating children’s books.

Last summer, his Army Reserve unit got called up for a Middle East assignment. He’s now the container manager for the Combined Forces Land Component Command at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

Verrett’s interest in art started almost before he was out of the crib. As a child he became fascinated with all things Disney.

“When I was four years old, I started drawing with crayons on the walls,” he said. “Mom liked the art work, but not the location.”

But growing up in public housing in one of the poorest states in the country narrowed his post-high school options. He enlisted in the National Guard at age 17, and two years later became an officer. He joined the Baton Rouge police force at age 20 — transferring the same year to the Army Reserve — and moved to the homicide team four years later.

On the murder beat, he teamed up with Keith Bates to form a celebrated crime-solving partnership that seemed made for a television cop show.

“They solved crimes when others were stupefied,” said Donna Britt, a friend of Verrett’s who is longtime reporter and anchorwoman at WAFB-TV, the CBS affiliate in Baton Rouge. “Verrett and Bates were in our headlines, sometimes, every night.”

Verrett is white and Bates black, but the two men found they were more alike than different. Both shared a strong Christian faith.

“He was from the ’hood, and I was from the projects, so we meshed well,” Verrett said.

Through his police career, though, Verrett never forgot his love of art and writing. He always tried to put a bit of extra flair into typically dry police reports. He became the Baton Rouge police department’s sketch artist and, in 1998, graduated from the FBI’s sketch artist school.

Away from work, he painted murals at his sons’ school and taught night classes in drawing and creative writing.

A local book publisher, Keepsafe, in Baker, La., has published three of his books, the profits from which Verrett has donated to his church and local children’s charities. Verrett retired from the police force after hitting the 25-year mark last spring — with no regrets, he said, over leaving behind the long, unpredictable hours and frequent clashes with supervisors who didn’t always appreciate his blunt honesty.

His chief motivation, though, was to spend more time with his wife, Melissa, and his sons, Chris, Brian and Sean, while the boys were still in their teens.

“I wanted them to play ball instead of working the streets,” Verrett said.

He also hoped to spend more time on his books and land a contract with a big-time book publisher. Those wishes moved to the back burner last summer, though, when his reserve unit, the 143rd Transportation Command from Orlando, Fla., got called up for a year’s duty in Kuwait.

Attached to CFLCC for the past five months, Verrett has overseen an inventory of all the Army’s cargo containers in the Central Command region, from Africa to Afghanistan. Although it is less glamorous, he finds it no less challenging than police work. He said his team has tracked down 1,400 leased cargo containers that are costing the Army between $20 and $40 per day. Already he has returned 500 of them, saving millions of dollars.

But he hasn’t forgotten his art. Verrett carries pens and pads with him everywhere to capture his restless thoughts. He draws cartoons at dinner and lies on his bunk at night, typing kids’ stories into his laptop computer.

Staff Sgt. David Smith, 38, of Melbourne, Fla., works and frequently travels with Verrett on container-counting expeditions. He said Verrett his written a series of stories for Smith’s 3-year-old daughter about the adventures of Sgt. Sam the Camel and the Ali Baba Lizards. He even draws while they’re driving in the car.

“He’s managed to capture so many scenes,” Smith said. “When things strike him, he’ll have (the cartoon) done in like five minutes.”

When Verrett returns to Louisiana this summer, he says he’ll try to get some of his new material published, including more “White Alligator” installments and several Christmas stories. Melissa is his editor, and his three sons will join him as co-illustrators.

“I tell people, we can use art to educate, inspire and entertain,” Verrett said. “But if you hide it in your sock drawer, it doesn’t help anyone.”

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