OCC Artwork

Examples of artwork created by incarcerated people at Orange Correctional Center for the “Something To Say” exhibit that will be at the Margaret Lane Gallery in downtown Hillsborough.


For the second consecutive year, the Margaret Lane Gallery will host an exhibit of artwork created by residents at the Orange Correctional Center (OCC) in Hillsborough. This show is the result of a collaboration among the participating men at OCC, Alamance Orange Prison Ministry, EmancipateNC, Eno Friends Meeting, Human Kindness Foundation, Our Children’s Place of Coastal Horizons, Margaret Lane Gallery, and Yesterday and Today Frame Shop.

“Something To Say” brings together a collection of visual and literary art created by people who are incarcerated at OCC. The creative outlet has served as an chance for some of the men at the center who have, because of the pandemic, been even more isolated from society. 

Members of the Eno Friends Meeting have sought to keep alive a connection to continue to access the “talent, kindness, generosity, and wisdom” of people who are incarcerated. This was the initial driver for the group to begin collecting arts supplies for OCC, and to have an exhibition for the work.

“The media presents people who are in prison in a certain way, but volunteers get a very different experience,” said Sally Freeman, who is a volunteer with OCC and a member of the Eno Friends Meeting. “One of people who are so grateful to be as a human being, and to not be forgotten about. The fact that the community still thinks of them and that we as individuals are willing to go spend our time with them is just so appreciated.”

Some of the residents will come right out and thank the volunteers for the art supplies and time to use them, but that’s not the only way of measuring how much the arts opportunity is valued.

“It’s always good to hear somebody say ‘Thank you, this helps us blow off some steam,’ but just to see guys come in, and then when I come in Wednesday morning, guys are gonna ask what time even though I call it the same time every week,” said Josh LeRoy, who has been a chaplain with OCC for two years, and is employed by Alamance Orange Prison Ministries. “You know, ‘What time are you going to announce?’ Or, ‘Are we gonna be able to come down?’ It just kind of lets me know that they look forward to, really, any opportunity to come down there, get away, and do something different.”

LeRoy said that even though a majority of the residents who come down to do art don’t feel comfortable submitting it for the exhibit, each work of art is hung in the Peace Center at OCC, which is a space that was paid for by volunteers, and built in 2010. LeRoy’s office is in the Peace Center, as well as a religion library.

Even though he’s not there as a licensed therapist, LeRoy said he sees a lot of value in what doing art provides the men at OCC.

“That’s something that I don’t shy away from in the sense of my understanding of my job at the facility is that everything that we offer is supposed to be therapeutic,” he said. “If it’s not, then I’m kind of wasting my time.”

This year’s show will present 14 pieces of artwork and several poems that were created by residents of OCC. Each work of art is professionally framed at Yesterday and Today Frame Shop, and hung in the Margaret Lane Gallery. The poetry will be read by local poets at the show’s opening reception, July 29.

“The volunteers who go in there (to OCC) are often amazed at the talent and just the wonderful spirit of the people who are in there,” Freeman said.

For the poetry offerings, the incarcerated men at OCC were urged to express themselves in their works. Of the five residents whose poems will be read, three of them are serving life sentences. LeRoy said the subject matter ran from love poems to expressions that delve into past challenges and troubles. The authors were hesitant about whether their poems were right for the show.

“I told them that’s what we want to hear,” LeRoy said. “If that’s what you want to say, as long as it’s not explicit and it doesn’t name people in the prison, or something like that, it’d be fine. I told the other guys that too, but they wanted to share it as a poem they wrote for their girlfriend 10 years ago. And that’s fine, too.”

The schedule for the exhibit is as follows: July 27 through August 21 (gallery closed August 3-14), opening reception Friday July 29 6-9 p.m. during the Last Friday Art Walk; Friends and Family Celebration Saturday July 30 4:30-7:30 p.m. (general public is welcome.)

Hosted at Margaret Lane Gallery, 121 W. Margaret Lane, Hillsborough 27278 919-296-8938, margaretlanegallery.com