CAMDEN, NJ — One panel alongside the Camden County Correctional Facility’s brick exterior will soon radiate with tangerine skies and a bright blue river of a new mural: “Hope is a Waking Dream.”

Angela Brown, 23, says the seed that led to the design was the idea of hands signifying collaboration. She herself collaborated with fellow independent artist and painter Sonia Gonzalez — who will begin work on the piece in the next two weeks.

“First I thought about hands coming together and then I wanted to pick out values that were important to me so that’s how the idea of the book came about,” Brown told TAPinto Camden at the unveiling Tuesday morning on Federal Street.

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Brown’s mural overwhelmingly won a local contest that was narrowed down to 11 finalists at the end of August — receiving roughly 3,200 of the 4,000 votes. Camden County Freeholder Jonathan Young said the county plans to use two of the other submissions for murals elsewhere in the city.

“The hands you will see represent the community and the idea that we should all be looking out for each other. These hands are being pulled out of a book to represent education as a way to reform. Education, not in the sense of you have to go to school to be someone. Education, meaning the openness to want to learn and grow," said Brown, a graduate of Rowan University and local activist. “Learning is how we change our environment. Education is what helped me when I was homeless, after my own father ended up in this exact place I have now designed the mural for. We need to keep having these conversations and educate ourselves.”

Applicants for the contest were asked to reflect on themes that touched on hope, support, peace, community, fairness, justice, equity, inspire, unity and engagement.

Gonzalez, who has also painted a mural inside City Hall’s council chambers, said the piece will take approximately two months to complete. 

“Public art is very important to the community…[it] keeps us connected and helps us create a safer connection,” said Gonzalez. “When you look at a piece, look beyond the lines, the colors, the stroke, and you will find a lot of more that exists there.”

Gonzalez, Brown and Young were joined by Director of Corrections for Camden County David Owens and Camden County Jail Warden Karen Taylor.

“The mural design contest is an extension of our community engagement projects...90% of the individuals we house in our correctional facility are returning to our communities,” Taylor said. “Please help us in creating an environment of inclusion.”

The warden said those inside the correctional facility are referred to as reentrants or residents, instead of prisoners or inmates in order to further emphasize that they are a part of Camden. 

“One of the challenges is generating a meaningful shift in our society views [and we can accomplish that by] maintaining the meaningful dialogue that has developed in recent years and especially in recent months,” said Young.

During the pandemic, Taylor said the facility carried out what programs it could through virtual means and has launched a few new ones. Among them: a Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) program for opioid abuse victims and new entry opportunities (nos). 

“[Nos] is a tremendous network of formerly incarcerated individuals to serve as community liaisons. They assist our returning population as they navigate the challenges and barriers they're related to returning home,” said Taylor. “This past spring in our resource forum, which offers our returning citizens connections to social services, we are also in book discussions in partnership with the Camden County promote community engagement and communication. We look forward to creating opportunities for our population to discuss books, which will impact them and transform their lives.”

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