The message flashed across my screen and I was immediately and all at once overjoyed, grateful and genuinely happier than I have felt in over a year - maybe longer. The kind of happiness that can only come with witnessing a journey of triumph over circumstance and knowing you played a very small part in its course.
The message was from Brandon, whose journey I have had the privilege of following for the past three years. We first "met" back in 2018 when he started working on some of the non code bounties we had setup on Bounties Network and joined our community. Meeting people discovering crypto for the first time and enabling their involvement without any technical knowledge was one of my favourite things about the work we did - especially in that 2018 level crypto landscape. We started chatting and I got to know a bit about him, his story and his genuine passion for what crypto could be - “a tool for the betterment of society as a whole”.
Our first interview was in 2019 and for me it was one of the first true confirmations that what we were doing with this tech had meaning. A meaning well beyond the spoils of an obscure casino at the edges of the internet dominated by "few" narratives. This was a levelling of the playing field that could change the course of lives stuck between cemented lines of lack.
Fast forward two years and here we both are, catching up after some tumultuous yet truly transformative times. But I'd like to let Brandon tell his story, in his own words and through his own experiences.
S: We've kept in touch since our last interview, through some tough times in 2020 but really truly reconnected a few weeks ago. How have you been? Tell me everything!
Brandon: Well... my life has changed so much.
I am an artist now. I am on Twitter. And I am no longer homeless. Something made possible by a handful of bull run art sales, and the gracious support from some very special people, yourself included Simona.
For the first time in my life I have my own bed, my own desk, and my own bathtub. (Which I literally soaked in for almost my entire first week living here). I have an awesome camera and phone, and I have the laptop that you and all the awesome people pooled together and made possible. The laptop that allowed me to move past making art exclusively on my phone!
I really owe it all to the Ethereum ecosystem. It was not only all of the possibilities that Ethereum offers, but the people that make up its community, that really helped to change my life.
Most people come into the crypto world as investors, traders, or developers. I began my journey as an observer. I had very little prior exposure to technology. I had never been a participant in any type of financial market or community. Money was not part of my reality. But I wanted it to be. I dreamed about the security and safety that money would bring. When I heard about crypto, I needed to know more.
I dug through forums. I read white-papers. I watched Telegram rooms for hours. I didn't post threads, participate in ICOs, or engage with others in chat. I just observed. Observing is what I knew. It's what I have always done. What I always have been. The silent observer; out of sight and out of mind.
I have always been uncomfortable with having an identity as a "homeless" person. Not just because it changes how I was seen and treated, but because it changed how I felt about myself. But I am here talking about it, because I feel it is important that my experience be shared. Because this is a side of crypto that has so much potential, but I don't think people understand or really believe that it can work the way it did for me.
Ethereum is not a speculative asset for me. It's not something I invest in or trade. Ethereum is the tool that allows me to manage my own money, to work, to socialize, and to network.
S: It's essentially an integral part of your life. How did that all happen for you, that assimilation?
Brandon: When you are homeless, it’s almost impossible to find legitimate work. Most people won’t even consider hiring someone who is homeless. The ones who do, usually try to take advantage of you.
In 2018 I discovered the Bounties Network. It was a decentralized online gig economy, where anyone could be an employer or an earner. Job fulfilment and payment was handled via a smart contract. Being homeless was suddenly not a barrier. I was never denied the ability to complete a task because I didn’t have a mailing address, reliable transportation, or work history. I was never taken advantage of or shorted on a payment. It was my first real experience being able to perform work without having to endure all of the negative feelings that usually came with it.
There was one task I completed in the Summer of 2019 that sticks out. I spent almost six hours wading through city canals picking up assorted trash and plastic. I stepped on multiple thorns, soaked my only pair of shoes, and at the end of the day I smelled like...well....a city canal. The minute I was done with the job, I was signed into my web3 wallet and submitting my task completion.
About an hour later, I was paid about $20 in ETH. I took about half, converted it to Bitcoin, and transferred it to my Cashapp card. With that I had tooth pain medicine and some food to eat. And with the rest of the ETH, I had just enough gas to mint a few NFTs on a brand new platform I had just joined called SuperRare.
I was happy that evening. I felt useful. I felt good about myself. I was actually smiling. I wasn’t in pain. I wasn’t hungry.
To some, the work or the money may not have seemed worth it. To me, it was one of the best days I can remember.
By the start of 2020, Bounties Network had sadly lost its funding and tasks were no longer available. But as that chapter of my journey was ending, I was beginning the next by creating and selling crypto art on SuperRare.
SuperRare is a crypto art platform where artists sell one of one artwork as NFTs. I had first learned of NFTs in 2018 on Bounties Network, having made some for various tasks and jobs, like the crypto cards for a Venezuela project. I became aware that people were making and selling NFTs on a few different platforms, and ended up joining the telegram channel for SuperRare. I had not been making digital art for very long, so it was a little intimidating at first, but that quickly faded.
I couldn’t believe how amazing everyone was. From the owners to the artists, every single person was kind and incredibly supportive. One of the owners, Zach, encouraged me to apply to the platform. I did, and to my surprise, I was accepted.
The NFT space now has gotten lots of attention, and a lot of things have changed. Although it has brought an increase in sales, I do miss the early days. Back then, there was a much different spirit, both in the people and the artwork. It felt very much like a family. I made most of my artwork on my phone, and I did not have a consistent style at all. Art was still very much a place of discovery for me. But that was ok, because the artwork that was being made seemed to be more about expression rather than commercialization. There wasn’t any pressure or need to conform or compete. Money wasn’t really the focus for anybody, and honestly, it felt so good just to make a sale, that I accepted just about any offer, even if it was only for a few dollars.
When all the hype started, everything started to feel a bit strange. There were so many new artists, with impressive and intricate 3D artwork, that I began to doubt myself and shy away from the platform a bit. But still, a lot of my old artwork started selling and reselling, eventually I had the confidence to come back and start creating again. With the money from those recent sales, along with the support of a few special people in the community, I was able to get enough money to finally get off the streets. I now have an apartment, my own bed, a computer and a desk. Something I never would have dreamed possible just a year ago.
My style is still up in the air. I am still looking for my signature. So I decided to go back to something very close to my heart. Something that I have been creating for many years....writing poetry. Poetry has always been my escape and my therapy. It was the thing that took my mind off my surroundings. And allowed me to express myself, even when there was nobody around to talk to.
S: I am proud to say I am already a collector of your work and I am excited to check out your poetry series. Any closing thoughts?
Brandon: Ethereum is its own world. There is layer upon layer upon layer. I mean that not on a technical level, but a human one. This place is filled with the best human beings that I have ever encountered.
The entire experience as a whole, is magical: The mindset. The possibilities. Anyone who has truly immersed themselves into what Ethereum has to offer knows that it isn't about money. It's about empowering humanity.
Ethereum opened doors for me that did not exist out in the real world. It gave me so many things, but most importantly it gave me myself.
I am a citizen of Ethereum, not a user.
Ethereum is where my friends are.
Ethereum is where my job is.
Ethereum is where my purpose is.
I haven't been homeless since the day I landed on Bounties Network in 2018.
This is my real home.