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Prisoner Robert S. requested to have a photo of himself, taken from the Department of Corrections website, placed on an alternate background. “If you can place my picture on another background, nothing too much please. Something simple like a blue sky with clouds or a sunset in the distance would be fine,” Robert wrote. “I want to extend my love to you, for you, as you have already done for me. Because genuine, authentic true love is when you do for others just because you can, and you hold no preconceived notion that you will be getting anything in return.” Reynolds says she was particularly humbled by this request.
“Even exercise is done in a concrete pen. They never have access to the sky,” she said. “I looked through hundreds of pictures of blue sky and clouds and found this hay bale picture…It became really haunting and eerie and beautiful.”
MOM, MONEY AND MANSION — Robert T.
Robert T. sent Tamms Year Ten a photo of his mother, who had died the previous year. Robert had no family that visited him. He wrote on his request form that he wanted an image of, “my mother standing in front of a mansion, or Big Castle, with a bunch of money on the ground. OR if you can’t do that, THEN a substitution is a big mansion or castle with a bunch of money in front of it and a black hummer parked in front of it. I truly appreciate this a lot… Now I know somebody out there in the world cares about us in here.” Reynolds sees the photo as a memorial to Robert’s mother. “She was poor and this was his way to put together his mother with the things she never had,” she said.
STAINED GLASS WINDOW — Terrell, 2012
Terrell, like many prisoners, wanted to find out what his old neighborhood looked like, especially the Robert Taylor public houses in Chicago. Demolished in 2007, the housing projects were comprised of 28 high-rise buildings stretching two miles. Photographer Greg Ruffing took five photos to fill the request: an empty lot with the old foundation still visible, new condos, a community garden, and this image from the neighborhood of a stained glass window behind a rusty screen. Knowing the conditions of isolation that Terrell experienced, Ruffing said he looked for sensory details in composing the images: “The orange glow of warm sunlight, the sensation of brisk morning air, the way the city radiates color in the dusk and dawn hours.”
AUNTIE’S HOUSE ON THE BLOCK — Darrius, 2012
Many men, including Darrius, asked for scenes from their old neighborhoods. Darrius wanted a picture of his aunt’s house, located in Englewood, Chicago.
SOUTH KING DRIVE AND E. 63RD STREET — Charles, 2012
Charles, who had been in prison for 22 years at the time of his request, asked for pictures of four intersections on the south side of Chicago that he used to hang out around. “I feel forgotten, cast away but God uses this time to show how he never forgets about us no matter what,” he wrote in his request.
CLOWNS — Humberto, 2012
Chicago animator Lisa Barcy, Dutch photographer Harry Bos and Baltimore filmmaker Stephanie Barber each orchestrated a version of Humberto's detailed request for a lovesick clown: "A lovesick clown: holding a old fashioned feathered pen: as if writing a letter: from the waist up: in black and white. As close up as possible: as much detail as possible: & the face about 4 inches big."
CHICAGO FOG — Richard, 2012
“I would like to see The Downtown Chicago or the Lake of Chicago it will bring me happiness to see a real nice picture of the downtown,” Richard wrote in his request.
PUERTO RICAN FLAG — Adolfo, 2005
Artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz helped fill the request for a Puerto Rican flag by asking photographer Thais Llorca for a photo of the burial of Filiberto Ojeda, whom she calls “a nationalist hero to some, anti-hero to others.”
TWO CHILDREN AT THE PIANO — Cary, 2013
Cary wanted his request to be a present for his wife—a photo of a boy and girl sitting side by side on a piano bench dressed in their Sunday best with a single rose on the keys.
TAMMS YEAR TEN GROUP PHOTO — Tyrone, 2011
Several men asked for photos of the people of Tamms Year Ten. One prisoner said, “I’d just like to be able to put the faces to the names we’ve seen over the years so the humanity of each can shine forth—a name or a paper at the end of the day is still just a name on paper!”