The artistic voices of the incarcerated were displayed in North Carolina recently, giving thanks to community organizations that support and advocate for prisoners’ successful reentry into society, according to The Raleigh ( N.C.) News and Observer.
An exhibit called “Something to Say” featured art from men in Orange Correctional Center, a minimum security prison. It was held at The Margaret Lane Gallery in Hillsborough, N.C. The gallery is two miles from the prison.
Other community organizations in the area were available to talk about their work in support of returning citizens. That included Step Up Durham, Reentry House Plus, Darkness RISING, and Wounded Healers.
“To me, this event meant visible evidence of change, and chances for those who are struggling because of life circumstances,” Charles Collins told the newspaper. Collins was recently released from OCC. “Look how they took chances and turned that failure into success!”
The artwork included black and white pencil sketches, Jackson Pollock-esque splatters and a neon purple horse done in pastel. OCC resident David Bishop submitted a piece depicting a black and white dog with its tongue sticking out.
“I called the piece ‘Tasting Life,’” said Bishop. “Spending so much time with dogs helped me see the world from their perspective. You have to make the moment count, and that’s what the message of my piece is.”
The “Something to Say” exhibit started in 2021 as a platform for incarcerated artists to have their work seen.
The gallery owners and operators, Mary and David Knox, don’t seek to profit from the exhibit. The art is returned to the artists or shipped to loved-ones for a fee after the show ends. Some of the art is hung in the OCC’s Peace Center until the artist’s release.
Xavier Knox, Mary and David’s son, professionally frames each piece using leftover material. He owns the Yesterday and Today Frame Shop. He framed 15 pieces this year at a cost of about $150 per piece, reported the article.
“The cost for framing this artwork is coming from my own pocket, but I think the message is important enough,” said the younger Knox. “I believe it’s important to have a person’s artistic voice able to be heard.”
Formerly incarcerated people, along with the Orange County Reentry Council, collaborated on the July 30 event with the Human Kindness Foundation and Eno Friends Meeting of Hillsborough. These organizations provide art materials to incarcerated people at OCC and work closely with them for successful reentry.
“Too many times, we hear unsuccessful stories, recidivism, returning to lives of crime. The success isn’t spoken about enough,” said Demorris “Tuck” Tucker, who was released from OCC in 2017 and spoke to the crowd at the gallery. “But your support, you coming today, gets this message out there.”
According to the Aug. 2 article, the best way to get involved as a volunteer or advocate for incarcerated community members is to search for local reentry organizations. Sally Freeman, an Eno Friends member and long-time OCC volunteer, said this is a better method than reaching out to prisons directly.
“We’re hoping this event made them feel like a part of the community, and we want to keep their connections alive,” said Freeman. “That’s where all of this comes from — volunteers go into prisons and realize there’s so much humanity in there.”
“They’re waiting for connection in a system that completely dehumanizes them. When volunteers come in, there’s an amazing experience of having your humanity reflected,” she added.