Tamms Prison Project Makes Prisoners' Dreams Come True (PHOTOS)

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Chris Murphy, 2012.,Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman,via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Chris Murphy,2012.

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Chris Murphy, 2012.

AUNTIE’S HOUSE ON THE BLOCK—Darrius

“Photo Requests From Solitary” was one of many projects launched by Tamms Year Ten to build publicity for the campaign to close Tamms supermax. The men in Tamms were invited to request a photograph of anything in the world, real or imagined. The responses they sent back included the Kaaba (sacred house) in Mecca, comic-book heroes locked in epic battle, Egyptian artifacts, a brown-and-white horse rearing in weather cold enough to see his breath, and the Mexican flag at the Zocalo at sunrise. Many men asked for scenes from their old neighborhoods. Darrius requested a photograph of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, including his aunt’s house and the whole block of 63rd and Marshfield, at 2 p.m., facing east. “Let the people outside know that the picture is for D-man,” he told us.

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Rachel Herman, May 6, 2011.

BIG CROSS—Willie

Willie asked for a photograph of a vigil at Bald Knob Cross, which stands on a hill in southern Illinois, to pray for his deliverance from Tamms and for parole. So, Tamms Year Ten caravanned down to the cross, held a litany of song and prayer, and celebrated with a dinner. The next day, we drove family members to visit loved ones at the prison. Willie was transferred from Tamms, and on July 27, 2012, he was paroled after 36 years in prison.

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Laurie Jo Reynolds, 2011.

GUY WITH BLUE SKY—Robert S.

Several men asked for photos of themselves, taken from their online Department of Corrections photos, to give to their families. Robert wanted his picture matched with an alternate background. He wrote, “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 also said, “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.”

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Jeanine Oleson, 2013.

MOM, MONEY AND MANSION—Robert T.

Robert, a man with a serious mental illness, sent Tamms Year Ten a photo of his mother, who had died the previous year. Because he had no family and no visitors, he was hopeless and desolate. He asked for 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.”

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Greg Ruffing, 2012.

STAINED-GLASS WINDOW—Terrell

Terrell wanted pictures of 53rd and State through 43rd and State, where the Chicago public-housing project Robert Taylor Homes once stood. Demolished in 2007, the project was composed of 28 high-rise buildings stretching for 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 one of a stained-glass window behind a rusty screen. In taking the photos, Ruffing attended to sensory details that exist even in desolate places: “the orange glow of warm sunlight, the sensation of brisk morning air, the way the city radiates color in the dusk and dawn hours.” Ruffing hoped the photos might be “a gesture of something peaceful to interject against some of the violence in our society.”

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Lenny Gilmore, December 10, 2011.

TAMMS YEAR TEN GROUP PHOTO—Tyrone

Several men asked for photos of the people of Tamms Year Ten. One asked for a picture of everyone along with “one thing about them individually like what kind of music they like.” Another 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!” This group portrait was taken after a meeting at Chicago’s Progressive Community Center/The People's Church with Pastor B. Herbert Martin Sr. presiding.

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. From left to right: photos by Lisa Barcy, Harry Bos and Stephanie Barber, 2012.

CLOWNS—Humberto

Artists from around the world offered to fill photo requests for men in isolation. 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."

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Jason Reblando, 2012.

SUBWAY, STAIRS, AND STORES—Charles

Charles asked for pictures of four Chicago intersections: 63rd and King, 63rd and Calumet, 48th and Wabash and 61st and Indiana. Having been in prison for 22 years, he wrote: “I feel forgotten, cast away, but God uses this time to show how he never forgets about us no matter what, and I will like to thank you all for everything you do and everyone at Tamms Year Ten. I do feel bless having you all in my life.” This is S. King Drive & E. 63rd Street.

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Scott Fortino, 2012.

CHICAGO FOG—Richard

Many requests were for sites in downtown Chicago including Magnificent Mile, the lake front, Millenium Park, Navy Pier, the Christmas tree, cars, restaurants, and the Chicago skyline. Richard wrote, “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 please!”

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Thais Llorca, 2005.

PUERTO RICAN FLAG—Adolfo

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.” Santiago Muñoz wrote to the Tamms prisoner, Adolfo, “When I read your request, I immediately thought of the gigantic flag that is unfurled during protests and marches here ... The Puerto Rican flag blue is supposed to be azure blue—azul celeste—but it has slowly transformed into the U.S. flag blue. Only people who remember this, or who hold on to to old flags for personal reasons, know this and insist on the right color. I’m usually partial to azul celeste, but I hope you will agree this one wins for bombast.”

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Karen Rodriguez, 2013.

TWO CHILDREN AT THE PIANO—Cary

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. Ithaca-based filmmaker Karen Rodriguez wanted to support the campaign to close Tamms, but had to ask her son to participate in the photo shoot. She pitched it like this: “We are going to take a picture for a prisoner who is kept apart from other people. Taking the picture he requested might help him feel less lonely and feel connected to people he doesn’t even know.” He agreed, and so did their neighbors.

Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen Eisenman, via Creative Time Reports. Photo by Danny Orendorff, 2012.

JLO’s BUTT—Johnny

Johnny asked for a photo of a very specific Jennifer Lopez music video—the one with her ex-boyfriend Ben Affleck on a boat, with her butt showing. Luckily, there were people who remembered the exact same video he did (“Jenny From the Block”), and Danny Orendorff was able to take a still from it.