Editor’s note: This feature is the latest in a series we’ll be running over the next several weeks. To learn more about how the project started, check out the introductory post here. And please come back here regularly to see more.
This is Brooke. I met her, Jamie, and Ruffy one rainy day in July while they were panhandling at a Target store in Richmond. I walked up with a few dollars and asked to photograph them. When they saw the money, it wasn’t a hard decision for them. Brooke quickly said “Yes,” and I began photographing, all the while, asking questions about their life and their travels.
“I’m from St. Petersburg, Florida, but I’m traveling to Chicago.” She never told me why.
Brooke was a rather sweet girl with a big smile she wasn’t afraid to show. I think she was happy just to be getting some attention from a stranger.
“I stopped hitch-hiking after some guy picked me up, drove me to a hotel, and tried to rape me. I ran away and decided never to hitch rides again.”
Jamie was a stitch. I could tell he wanted me to think he was a big tough guy, but I knew he wasn’t as tough as he would have liked everyone to think. Occasionally, I would catch him smiling and raise my camera to photograph him only to find that he had erased the boyish grin from his face, replacing it with the look you see in this photo.
“I’m from South Carolina but I’m going to New York to live with some family.” I hope he made it there ok.
It had been raining about two minutes before I took this shot. I felt as though it added to the reality of the situation that these people have to live with from day to day.
Ruffy travels with Jamie and likes the cheap dog treats, even though people typically only donate the expensive stuff.
“She doesn’t like the expensive treats, but since that’s all people are giving me for her, that’s what she eats.”
I like to think Ruffy isn’t as sad as she looks in these photos. I can’t stand to think that she’s unhappy… it breaks my heart.
It started raining again as I was leaving. Brooke’s sign began to fall apart from being soaked with rain water, but she just kept holding it up, gripping it like it was the only thing she had left in this world – to let it go would mean giving up her voice.
As I was driving home one day in September, I noticed a girl sitting with two guys and two dogs and it reminded me of Brooke. I sat there at the stop light looking at her and I noticed she had a tattoo on her right arm of what looked like flowers and water. Then I realized… it was Brooke! I suppose Jamie split with Ruffy, and Brooke decided to stay in Richmond for a while longer. I’m glad she was with people; I felt better knowing she had “family.”