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A coastal sunrise breaks over the horizon, bathing in vivid hues a Carolina marsh looking very much like one in Brunswick County.
Other coastal scenes are captured in the acrylic paintings of Brunswick County native Norman “Marshall” Gore, a former prisoner whose work was recently chosen for display and sale at Sunset River Marketplace in Calabash.
Since his release from a halfway house in March after more than 25 years in prison, Gore, 46, is striving to launch a new career as an artist, in a new direction from his criminal past.
Prison, however, is where Gore discovered his artistic talents, as well as a new Christian life, both of which he spoke about at a recent Building Hope Ministries’ ex-offender roundtable at Beach Assembly of God near Shallotte.
“What a God-given talent—it is amazing,” roundtable participant Bev Moore said after viewing Gore’s array of paintings on display at the April 18 meeting.
“God puts you in a place for a reason,” Moore said. “[Gore] might never have discovered his talent if he hadn’t been there.”
Gore pretty much said the same thing during his testimony to the group. He also described his younger years when, as a 13-year-old, he once found God, then strayed and got lost again, up until he was serving time in prison.
“I feel like there is so much negativity shown about these men getting out of prison,” Building Hope coordinator Donna Phelps said at the start of the meeting.
“We never look at what the Lord’s done to the ones who are touched and moved through the power of Jesus Christ. So this is going to be a real blessing for y’all.”
Phelps said Gore has enriched the lives of herself and her husband, Gary.
“I just pray that other people would realize how God does give people second, third, fourth chances,” she said. “I know he’s probably given me 20 chances.”
Gore, who served time in state and federal prison, has shared his “tremendous gift of artwork to touch so many lives,” Phelps said. “You can tell just from the ones here.”
The ones at the Calabash gallery, she added, are even better.
After his first spiritual experience as a teen, Gore said he started hanging out with the “same friends and the people that I knew. I didn’t have any spiritual support, so I started filling my head back up with the same thing I was filling it with before. After a short time, I forgot about God. But even though I forgot about him, he never forgot about me.”
Alcohol and drugs were always at the core of his subsequent problems, he said, starting in December 1979 when he shot a drug dealer. About a month later, he and two other men robbed a Sunset Beach liquor store. In August 1980, he went to prison where he served almost nine and half years.
In the early 1990s, Gore returned to prison on a 30-year sentence for first-degree burglary, 10 years for larceny and two years for misdemeanor assault.
In prison, Gore was given a chance to study commercial art, but he said he was still strung out on dope. Fellow prisoners talked him into using his design skills on the computer to create counterfeit cashier’s checks. Federal agents eventually busted their prison caper.
“I was in the last quarter [of study], and I made the state so mad they wouldn’t let me graduate,” Gore said, drawing laughter when he added, “I can understand that I made ’em pretty mad.”
He said if he could go back to where he really started messing up, “it would be that first joint I ever smoked or that first drink I ever took, because up until that point, I had an A average at school. After that, I went from an A average to a D average, not because I wasn’t capable of doing the work, but because I didn’t have any incentive anymore. All I wanted to do was stay stoned.”
When he returned to prison the second time, Gore said his heart had “gotten so hard and so calloused, that you couldn’t tell me anything about God. The only time I ever called on the name of Jesus was when I wanted to blame somebody else for my own shortcomings, my own mistakes, my own problems.”
He dabbled in other religions, in witchcraft and in the game Dungeons and Dragons. Finally, his spiritual awakening literally came one night as he lay in his prison bed, in what he describes as demon-possessed sleep.
“When I just started to say the name Jesus, those demons fled,” he said. “And I lay there in my sleep that night, and I said, ‘Lord, I give you my life right now.’”
As for his artistic endeavors, Gore said he was doodling on paper when another prisoner offered to teach him how to draw people, and from there his own talent took off. In October 2001, one of his paintings, “Together We Stand,” won Best of Show and People’s Choice awards at a statewide inmate art exhibit at East Carolina Mall in Greenville.
Gore said he didn’t realize he had artistic abilities until he was serving time. In fact, back in the fourth grade at Waccamaw Elementary School in Ash, Gore was told he didn’t have talent.
“They started an art club,” he recalled with amusement. “The teacher came to our classroom and had us draw our bedroom. Then she picked certain ones out of the class to enter her art class. She told me I had no artistic ability; there was no need to pursue it. I guess I had a messy bedroom. That’s what she told me, and I quit drawing until I went to prison.”
Since being released from prison, Gore has had to adjust back into life with his family and in Brunswick County, which has changed a lot since the last time he was here.
“The last time I saw Shallotte, it was just a little hole in the wall,” he said. “Now everything’s different.”
Gore said he’s not the same person he was when he left, either, and harbors hopes of pursuing a new career as a freelance illustrator.
Sunset River gallery owner Ginny Lassiter describes Gore’s paintings as “very good work. He has a great talent and sense of color.”
His marsh scenes are appealing to her clientele, she added, and reflect his familiarity with the region where he grew up.
Gore also plans to work with Building Hope Ministries in its ongoing efforts to aid ex-offenders as they transition back into society.
He knows from firsthand experience it can be a bumpy road, but he’s also keeping the faith.