When the Robert Taylor Homes was finished on the South Side of Chicago in 1962, it was the largest public housing project in the United States. Spread over large swathes of land, the project consisted of 28 identical 16-story buildings with wide plots of grass in between. Secluded intentionally from the white neighborhoods by a highway, the project deteriorated in the decades that followed. Police refused to patrol the area. Buildings and elevators became unsafe. Residents were said to refer to it as "hell on earth." The last of the Robert Taylor towers was torn down in 2007.
Kirk Nelson was raised in Robert Taylor, and the lifestyle he learned has trailed him until this day. Nelson was a thief, robbing people sometimes at gunpoint. He has spent more than 30 years in prison through 10 separate stints. Now, only months out of prison for robbing a convenience store, he revisits the land where the Robert Taylor Homes once stood, and contemplates the experiences that led him to where he is today.
Read Gwendolyn Brooks' poem, "We Real Cool."
Download and listen to Ghosts I-IV, by Nine Inch Nails, songs of which were featured in this episode.
Photo by John H. White.