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everyday  objects

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Everyday Objects is an installation organized by the National Public Housing Museum in partnership with the PNAP Think Tank. This installation features ordinary objects from incarcerated individuals in Illinois, many of whom were also public housing residents. Described by the individuals themselves, these objects give visitors a first-hand account of their day-to-day lives through the power of storytelling with everyday objects. The labels were created during PNAP Think Tank sessions with event moderators, Lisa Lee and Raúl Dorado. (Chicago Humanities)

After the "More Beautiful, More Terrible" exhibition, the artifacts will live at the newly built National Public Housing Museum on W Taylor St in Little Italy.

My football was an escape as well as a dream

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My football: run, pass, hit, tackle, shake and bake, spin move, stiff arm, hail mary, touch down! I had such a football crush as a kid…My first memory of my object (my football) is tackling my dad as he watched the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m about 5 years old, my dad’s in his lazy boy enjoying a concha (Mexican donut a.k.a pan dulce) and I’m readying my run. I take off like a rocket from the dining room crashing into my father, it’s a clean sack. Unfortunately I made my father spill his coffee all over himself and I received a spanking. My mom and dad were laughing afterwards, shocked really that I had tackled my dad. My football became an escape as well as a dream. Where I lived (Chicago Heights) we have a big space to play football; I grew up in a large family with brothers, cousins and nephews, enough to pick teams to play against each other. All of my friends knew they could find me and my family on Sundays, holidays, fall or winter playing tackle football for hours. I was always fond of playing in the rain because it would be muddy and not as easy to tackle someone. Much later in my teens we would go to the park and play football with much larger teams, guys from the neighborhood. I started young but it was in high school that my football became a lot more organized, fun and a dream coming into view. I was tall for my age (14) and moved up from my freshman squad to junior varsity. I liked playing quarterback but loved hitting them more and tried every play to sack, fumble, or intercept the football. If you were like me, I dreamed of making it to the NFL, playing college football, winning the Heisman Trophy and a Super Bowl ring with the MVP for most sacks and turnovers. For now, I’d settle just to throw my football around.

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One of the things that I left behind that my mother still packs up as she has moved several times is my last Colt-45

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A 22-ounce of Colt-45 (malt liquor beer) helped take the pain away. While I was out on bond for the case that I am currently serving time for I caught another case for distributing drugs. I bonded out for the drug case too, but this time the judge put me on house arrest for the last year of my freedom while I finished fighting the initial case I was out on bond for. I drank beer often to ease all of the emotions that come with being a 20 year old boy fighting a murder case. While I was on house arrest I lived in my mom’s basement. The basement was like a small apartment for me, it had a nice tv/music area, a pool table, a bedroom, a full bathroom, weights, and miniature refrigerator; I kept my Capri Suns, strawberry Gatorade, and my beer. On September 15th, 2006, I was convicted of first-degree murder and taken into custody. I left a number of things behind. One of the things that I left behind that my mother still packs up as she has moved several times is my last Colt-45. By transforming it into a symbol of hope, freedom and love for my mom and me, that Colt-45 has preserved its power to subdue the pains of life. Specifically, the pain that comes with my mother’s oldest son (me) being caught in the clamps of a system that falsely claims the identity of a justice-seeking institution. I have been incarcerated for 18 years. Today, I am a 37 year old man who has been identified as an agent of change in that unjust system that is holding me hostage. In the earlier years of my term of incarceration, my mom and I had plans to pop that one dollar of beer like an expensive bottle of champagne as we celebrated my release. Now, it is too old to drink. One day it will be a symbol of my mothers love that has endured every year of this pain with her son (me)—always loving me, never giving up on me, always encouraging me, always empowering me and never abandoning the struggle with me as we overcame the pain of the Illinois Criminal Justice System.

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I was 18 years old and there I was listening to my own eulogy

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Everything about it felt like a funeral. I was 18 years old and there I was listening to my own eulogy. My family and friends spoke about me in the past-tense—as if I wasn’t even there. “Mike was so intelligent—he could’ve been anything he wanted.” My brother said, “I was his best friend and always kept him safe.” My grandfather’s voice cracked when he said, “I wish he would’ve just kept playing sports.” During all their testimonies not one person ever looked at me. I’m haunted by what I must’ve put them through and even more by what those I’ve harmed must’ve suffered. The judge sat high on his horse nonchalantly flipping through pages. This was just another day at work for him and I knew his mind had been made up a long time ago. These were formalities that needed to take place to legitimate the process in the eyes of the law; and he would prove me right when it was time for the state to have their say. He told them it wasn’t even necessary for them to speak, as he was ready to proceed with sentencing. He said that due to a mitigating factor—that I was under extreme mental and emotional distress, the sentence would not be death—but the sentence would be natural life without parole. I remember thinking—what’s the difference? Instead of going to death row and waiting to be killed, I would go to “slow death row,” and spend the rest of my life waiting to die. Either way your 18 year old life is over and if you’re brave enough to look over at your family you can witness their mourning process begin—I was not. Instead I looked straight ahead, eyes focused on the wall clock and I watched the first seconds of the countdown to the end of my life slowly tick away. I was then taken away, and my body was delivered to one of the state’s injustice system graveyards. Then I was buried alive—and in the words of Judge Thomas Durkin, I was “committed to America’s trash heap.” This paper was my first piece of prison mail, and I’ve kept it for 30 years. It’s called a Sentence Calculation Worksheet, and this is the closest a person can come to reading their own death certificate. We all receive this document as it notifies a prisoner of his potential date of release or, in my case—that I’ll never be released. This is the state’s official reminder, that no matter what I do—what I may accomplish—in the eyes of the judge and the people of Illinois, I’ll never have any redeemable qualities and my worth as a human being would perpetually be nothing. Over the past three decades, my reasons for keeping this paper have changed. They have evolved. First it was about anger and arrogance. I wanted to overcome this sentence, to throw it in the face of those who counted me out. It then became a source of motivation for self- improvement and personal accomplishment. Now I dream of one day being able to use this tattered, yellowing and fading paper as a source of motivation for others. And, as an example of hard work and perseverance. I now keep this paper in the same folder as my college degree. These documents, more than anything else, remind me of my heart-breaking journey. One symbolizes a pit of despair, shame and pain. The other— the mountain I decided to climb after clawing my way out. It reminds me of the overwhelmed 18-year old kid in the midst of a mental health crisis being told he was worthless, irredeemable and incapable of achieving anything that can ever contribute to society—for that, I would be imprisoned until I die.

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I have taken more pictures with my brother as incarcerated men than as free men


Ordinarily, pictures are taken to capture precious memories. They become objects that are treasured because the images of the people tell us stories; we’re reminded of better times, or even what could have been. Additionally, there is a long time tradition of families taking professional pictures for holidays or other special events. In general, pictures are taken around the house, on outings, get-togethers, or just randomly now that everyone has cameras on their phones. With regards to pictures, this has not always been my experience; my experience with pictures was different. For most of my life, since I was 7 years old or so, my family pictures were taken in a prison setting. Ever since my oldest brother was incarcerated and wrongfully convicted in 1984, we have only been able to take pictures in a prison visiting room. My brother was only 18 years old when he was incarcerated and I was only 6 years old. When he was sent to I.D.O.C, we looked forward to visiting him in a setting that allowed for contact visits. When we visited him in the county jail, we were separated by a glass barrier. In I.D.O.C, we were able to hug him and eat with him; but the thing I looked forward to most was taking pictures with him. In fact, the only picture that my two brothers and I ever took together was at a prison picnic. Unfortunately, we were never able to take another picture like that outside of prison because our middle brother was murdered shortly after my brother’s incarceration. He is missed. Fast forward to 2000, my oldest brother was finally released from prison. It was a joyous occasion, but bittersweet because I was facing my own murder case at the time. My brother and I were only able to share a year and a half of freedom as adults. Then I was convicted for my case and sent to prison to serve a 45 year sentence. A major difference between our incarceration experience is that we were not allowed to take pictures during the first 17 years of my incarceration. I.D.O.C had discontinued its picture program for around two decades or so. For years, many of us in I.D.O.C custody advocated for access to taking pictures with our loved ones—to no avail. Finally, they instituted another picture program—one that is closely scrutinized by internal affairs—but it’s better than nothing. I was elated to be able to take pictures with my loved ones again. However, I was also saddened by the realization that I have taken more pictures with my brother as incarcerated men than as free men. We never had the opportunity to take many pictures on outings, randomly, or special occasions. Most of our pictures were taken in a controlled setting with only a few poses approved by I.D.O.C officials. As I look at the pictures I’ve taken in prison, I cherish the images of my loved ones. At the same time, I’m reminded of my bondage and oppression that comes with taking pictures by I.D.O.C staff. Unfortunately, I’ll never be able to take another picture with my brother Meme ever again. He passed away on December 8, 2023 – a piece of me died that day too. Still though, I remain hopeful that one day soon, my loved ones and I will capture all of our precious memories as free people—no more restrictions!

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I purchased this Saddle King coat when I got to Menard Prison in 1993, and it’s all worn-torn. At that time we were allowed to wear street clothes in prison like jean pants, shirts and coats. Throughout the 30 years of my incarceration, the prison environment has changed in many ways, and this coat is a relic of that time.

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It wasn't as fun as playing on the crates in the backyard


I was born and raised in public housing. When I was 7 years old, about four friends and myself would take crates from the public housing office. My friend Baynard would get his older brother to cut the bottom out of the crate and nail it to the corner of the shed. We would play basketball all night. Our mothers wouldn’t mind us being out late because we were right on the back porch and the porch light was on. The more we played peacefully the more kids came. There were so many kids playing that we took more crates and nailed them up on at least ten different sheds. We started having basketball tournaments. It turned into such a big thing where the mothers would BBQ for us and watch us play. Older kids, teenagers, would bet and gamble on us playing crate ball. I’m from the projects in Joliet, Illinois. Public housing was made up of row houses instead of the high rises in Chicago. Once I turned 11 or 12 years old, public housing added two real basketball courts with four rims and we all ran to play on the real black-top courts. But not for long. It wasn’t as fun as playing on the crates in the backyard.

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I finished first place each year for my age group and first place overall in 2019 with a time of 24 minutes

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I’ve been incarcerated since 1998. I was sentenced to 50 years. I arrived at Stateville in November of 2003. At that time, there weren’t any programs, so for me jogging has always been therapeutic. It’s been a hobby of mine since my enlistment in the Marine Corps. Stateville sold these Nike running shoes in the late 90s. I purchased them second hand from a friend, “Shorty D.” He worked in the Stateville Industry Furniture Factory. He died in his cell of a heart attack in the mid to late 2000s. Since that time, Stateville has sponsored three 5K walk-run events, in 2016, 2017, and 2019. I finished first place each year for my age group and first place overall in 2019 with a time of 24 minutes. The races were run on the south yard, and fifteen laps constitutes 5K. The heat in the living unit gets so hot during the winter that the glue securing the soles of these shoes dried up, so you can probably see where I attempted to glue the sole of the shoe back together. I’m a Jon Burge-era torture survivor, and I’ve been wrongfully convicted for more than 25 years, half of my sentence.

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The greatest facets of our humanity sparkle when we learn from our past mistake, make better decisions for the future, and encourage others to radiate the same light


A child prodigy. I started high school at 11 years old. I graduated, matriculated into college and majored in business by age 15. I earned three certificates in business by 17. But while working to complete my business degree, I was wrongfully and unlawfully arrested for a murder that I did not commit. Yet somehow, here I am with a natural life sentence, considered irredeemable. Since then, over these 27 years of imprisonment, I triple-majored in American Jurisprudence, Transformative Justice, and Education, and earned a Bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University. I earned my Master’s degree in Restorative Justice. And now I teach a workshop to help and inspire others for our community, to help heal our community.

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An acoustic sound so sensational...reminding me that we are fully human


Standing on the balcony of the eleventh floor of the Robert Taylor public housing building. The wind chill is 20° F, dominating the city with its aggressive nature. I’m wearing a white Chicago Bears t-shirt, with my hands placed tightly in my Levi blue jeans. My attempt to protect them from the winter cold would be a daunting task. Chicago is earning its stripes of being called “The Windy City.” The wind is abruptly violent, possessing the freezing cold of arctic air and the powerful strength and speed of a category-five tornado. The building is a hundred feet long, fourteen-story slab of concrete with an elevator in the middle. On the end of this squared mountain, sits two other identical structures that face inward towards one another, and sideways to the buildings I was in. From a bird’s eye-view, the three buildings look like a giant letter U. To be clear, I’m not standing on this balcony, in the freezing cold because I love to underdress and don’t respect the treacherous winter season. I’m here because a hypnotizing sound has pulled me out of the small apartment. It was as if the Fiddler had played his flute and the mouse had blindly followed the intoxicating sound. Ironically, it was the cheers for the Chicago Bears winning the Super Bowl, a sound unfamiliar to me. Each floor of the building has a platform that protrudes approximately 5 ft from the structure. The apartments are uniformly rowed, each possessing the same idiosyncrasies, and the entire front part of the building is encased with an iron fence. In this atypically constructed place, which had been designed to contain and stunt the progress of a group of people by retracting their logic and suppressing their creativity, I heard the most beautiful sound ever: thousands of black people celebrating all at once, unified by one joy, one happiness, and one note. The enclosure of these three buildings made an acoustic sound so sensational that it heightened all my senses, giving me a warmth that blanketed my exposed skin, tethering all abilities into the ear-shot of a marginalized community, reminding me that we are fully human, and giving us permission to be conscientious of our own existence in this moment, in this time, and in this space. I left the awakening of the good nature of my people, a nature that had been pressed upon by subjugation and structural racism. In my 15 years on the planet, this was the first time I experienced a sound so aesthetically pleasurable. Unbeknownst to me was the fact that this event would be locked into my long-term memory bank, only to resurface through a provoking question of what objects have you owned while living in public housing. I was born and raised in my grandparents’ small modest house on the Southeast Side of Chicago and moved to public housing with my mom and two siblings, only after our house caught fire in the winter of 1985. However, unlike public housing, the houses in my neighborhood were built for middle class white folks who migrated to the suburbs and abandoned the community and beautiful homes, handing them to black folks. The creation of an enclosed environment didn’t influence the construction of where I grew up. Nevertheless, public housing had some of the most brilliant and gifted people, and I heard their collective voice in an unlikely place.

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Maximum security facilities run on a 23 and 1 schedule. Meaning that we are locked in our cells 23 hours a day and we get one hour out a day. We are allowed to go outside to the prison yard for recreation twice a week. We’re also given two showers a week. So people exercising in their cells and crafting a homemade shower hose is our way to shower. This is how we adapt to our environment. Instructions: Shower hose. It’s a homemade shower hose made from the outer black rubber lining of a 6’ ft co-ax cable cord. A second component which is the “tip,” and approximately 2” in. long is a clear rubber tube cut from a “seg-pen” which is the only kind of pen we can have in solitary confinement. A third of the tip is wedged inside the black rubber lining, two-thirds of the tip is visible. To shower in the cell. The shower hose works by inserting the “tip” of the hose into the sink water spout, then you press either the hold or cold water button and the water runs out of the hose.

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