by Patrick Ilagan . February 28th, 2015
Seven years ago, through a volunteer teaching job at a place called St. Leonard’s Ministries, halfway house in Chicago, copywriter Brandon Crockett envisioned a humble dream. The dream was to create a coffee table book that showcased the faces of former inmates who are working their way back to their ordinary lives and the poems they wrote in Brandon Crockett’s class.
Brandon thought that a collection of poetry alone just wouldn’t be enough. He thought of adding the faces of the people behind the poetry would be the key. Through a handwritten letter, Crockett was able to bring along acclaimed Chicago photographer Sandro Miller whose John Malkovich portraits took the world by storm. After receiving the letter from Brandon, Sandro called and told that he would gladly take part in the project. The two then met over at Sandro’s house to talk about the project and later on meet with the executive director of St. Leonard’s Halfway House.
Brandon and Sandro photographed over 65 residents in five separate photo shoots over the course of one year. We asked Brandon on what was it like to work with Sandro Miller. He says “Sandro is amazing behind the camera, but even more, he is amazing with the people he shoots.” Brandon adds “He had no relationships with any of the residents —each of them were sitting in front of him for the first time. Yet he made them feel so comfortable and proud of themselves. He would call them either by their first name, sir or ma’am. He would speak in a gentle tone and give them compliments telling them how confident they looked, how beautiful they were, how courageous and inspiring their photos were. When the individuals walked away from their individual sessions afterwards, they clearly felt so good about themselves. It was amazing. These are people that for a large part have had very few experiences, if any where they’ve been told such things. It was touching to witness and having been there for all 65 individuals, it never got old.”
Once Sandro was on board, he and Brandon discussed on how to deal with the funding. After considering the numerous options available, both of them ultimately decided that Kickstarter would be a great starting point. Brandon also mentioned he had a tough time picking which poems would run for each individual since some had as many as 6 amazing poems in the mix. Incorporating the written sections of the book is something that Brandon and his team are currently working on. He told us that the book will have seven written sections of various lengths. Two of those will be from former residents one who is doing well and the other still incarcerated. The other two sections will be from former executive directors then one each for Brandon and Sandro and finally the detailed history from a woman currently writing a book about St. Leonard’s
Teaming up with Chicago’s top graphic designers to design the book as well as pair the portraits with residents’ handwritten poetry thus creating the beautiful Finding Freedom: Poetry and Portraits of Former Inmates. Brandon and Sandro recently launched a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to raise up to $30,000 to support the production of the book and give back to the individuals at St. Leonard’s. Brandon Crockett wants us to not only see things from another perspective but also to show that these individuals are very much like us—with hopes, fears and dreams.