We are a Minnesota-based collective of artists shining a light on the shared humanity that resides within us all. The goal is to add a new dimension to the voices in the We Are All Criminals® project, which reflects on the reality that despite nearly all of us having committed crimes in our lives, only some of us live with a criminal record. We made the song and video to promote self-reflection, especially among those of us who have never been caught committing crimes; to spark honest dialogue about the ways in which our criminal justice system was set up to benefit those who have long held political power in this country, namely people who pass as white in America; and to change hearts, minds, and policy regarding our broken criminal justice system. We made the t-shirt as a walking conversation starter, so that when people ask why criMNal is splashed across your chest, you can share your story and ours.
Our common bonds have been shredded for centuries, as the American criminal justice system has attacked, destroyed, and demonized black and brown bodies, while white lives continue to be routinely spared and lionized. We are no different from one another -- the caged birds, the free ones, and the ones tattooed for life with a criminal record. We are all human. And we are all criMNals.
Emily Baxter kickstarted the We Are All Criminals® project after earning a Bush Fellowship in 2011 to highlight the anonymous stories of mostly white, privileged people in Minnesota who are fortunate enough to live today without a criminal record, despite their criminal history. Hundreds of people have sat down with Emily to tell their stories and be photographed (with their faces obscured), all in an effort to destigmatize and humanize individuals with criminal records.
Jonathan Oppenheimer met Emily in 2013 while interning in the Goodwill Easter Seals Re-entry program, helping individuals with criminal records to find stability upon being released from prison. He wanted to tell his story to Emily, but was motivated to pull out a pen and paper -- after years of not writing songs -- and add a twist to the stories Emily had been telling. He also decided to come out of the shadows, to not be anonymous in the recounting of his past, in order to encourage others to do the same.
The song could only happen with a beat, and Jerome Graham was the man to lend his musical talents to bring the song into the studio. He and Jonathan met in a class at the University of Minnesota's School of Social Work, when Jerome was presenting his work as a mentor to young men who had encountered the juvenile justice system in the Twin Cities. They collaborated on getting a mural project off the ground that paired young men who were living at Boys Totem Town with St. Paul muralist Lori Greene. They went on to complete the CriMNal song in late 2015. Jerome now serves on the Board of Directors of We Are All Criminals.
For maximum impact, the song demanded a video component, and Jon Reynolds was the filmmaker with the chops to bring the song to life on screen. Jon and Jonathan teamed up on the Midway Murals project in 2014-15, with Jon making a series of videos for the Knight Arts Challenge-winning project, helping the team to raise over $25,000 via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. In 2017 Jon led the final phase of the criMNal project, as he crafted, filmed, directed, and produced the music video for the criMNal rap song.
As a way to fund the video, encourage more discussion about the project, and give funders a conversation starter with friends and strangers, the last piece of the puzzle was a criMNal t-shirt, and Broderick Poole was recruited to the team. He and Jonathan have been friends and have worked together at Target Field for the past 5 years. Broderick is a small business owner, visual media artist, clothing designer, and screenprinter based in St. Paul. He created a design for a Midway St. Paul t-shirt that sold to hundreds of people in the Midway neighborhood and raised money for the Midway Murals project. He has dozens of pieces of original clothing apparel in stores around the Twin Cities, and he often creates custom designs, as he did for this project.
We are incredibly grateful for others who have collaborated with us so far on this project, including Superbrush 427 for his record-scratching skills; Ryan Isca Martinez for his excellent mixing work; and Matthew and Scott at Wild Sound Studio for their huge support and work bringing this song to life.