Accessibility links

Breaking News

Artistic Justice


((PKG)) VALENTINO DIXON
((TRT: 10:56))
((Topic Banner:
Artistic Justice))
((Reporter/Camera: Aaron Fedor))
((Producer: Kathleen McLaughlin))
((Editor: Kyle Dubiel))
((Map: Buffalo, New York))
((Main Character: 1 male))
((Sub Character:
1 male))
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

Well, I've been given many nicknames when I was in prison, you know. Most of the inmates called me "The Prison Picasso", you know. And they kind of ran with that because they would see me drawing all day long. I drew up to ten hours a day every day and I never took a day off.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I was arrested at 21 years old. I was hanging out at a popular hangout in Buffalo, New York, a restaurant and a shooting occurred. I took off, ran to my car and shortly thereafter, I was arrested and taken into custody and questioned. I was charged with shooting three people and within days, eight people came forward to clear me of the crime and the person responsible confessed to the crime. All of those witnesses and the confession was disregarded. I was found guilty of all charges, given a 39 years to life sentence. I found myself in Attica Correctional Facility and I didn't know what to do. And all I was asking myself is, "How are you going to survive this? You know, who's going to help you? Who's going to believe that you're innocent of this crime?" you know. I had written numerous letters, hundreds of letters and all of them were ignored. And you know, I had to make a choice, a conscious decision, you know, if I wanted to live or if I wanted to die. And when I watched the movie, Shawshank Redemption, the main character had two choices because he was innocent for the crime he was in jail for: "Get busy living or get busy dying." This is the favorite, famous quote. And that kind of resonated in my spirit. And it wasn't until my uncle told me, "Hey!” he said, "Hey, you need to, maybe, you need to start drawing again because if you could reclaim your talent, you could reclaim your life." And I had lost all my appeals. I had no hope to, you know, regain my freedom because I didn't have any help. He sent me some color pencils and some paper and I started drawing after that.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I first started drawing at the age of about four years old. And my grammar school art teacher, Mrs. Ross, she took, you know, her time to kind of mold me and take my talent to another level. And she got me into performing arts in eighth grade, which I went all the way through my senior year. And so art was always in my spirit. It's what I liked to do most.
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

I'd heard of him by reputation because I have a number of other clients in Attica and they knew him. And they just knew him to be a great guy. He was kind of a mentor
((Courtesy: Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative))
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

for some of the younger guys. He had a lot of street cred [credibility] when he went in. So, when he would, you know, say things or describe things, people put some stock in it. And he was kind of a, almost a guidance counselor for some of the others. And they would come and he would draw eight or ten hours a day. They'd come just to watch him draw. And it's almost like meditation, I think. But really, his art was one of the keys to obtaining his release.
((Courtesy: Valentino Dixon))
((Valentino Dixon, Artist
Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I remember drawing a rose, you know. And I was kind of rusty because I hadn't drawn in so many years. And the inmates loved the rose. They all was like, "Wow, that is such a beautiful rose!" And so that gave me the inspiration to keep drawing. Before I started drawing the golf courses, I drew greeting cards. And I drew over 500 greeting cards over a 15-year period. These are all hand-drawn with colored pencils. The warden and the rest of the staff, they knew me as this artist that whenever they walked by, you know, the area, the housing area, they would see me drawing. So this is what everybody had come to know me to do with my time.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

So one day, the warden comes in. He says, "Hey, Valentino. I'm going to be retiring in a couple of months. Before I leave, could you draw my favorite golf hole?" I says, "I don't know anything about golf. I'm a Black kid from the inner city, you know, but bring the picture in." And it was the 12th hole of Augusta. The warden brought the picture in. I drew it for him. He loved it. That was supposed to be the end of it. And my neighbor says, "Hey, Valentino. You should draw more golf holes.” I said, "I'm not going to draw more golf holes. I know nothing about the sport." He forced it on me and brought me some old Golf Digest magazines, tossed them on my bed. He said, "Hey, you know, you might find some interesting golf courses to draw.”
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

And after that, I started drawing golf courses every day, you know, never stopped. And after about six months, I had about 40 drawings, 40 golf drawings. And I started reading the columns in the golf magazine. And I came across a column called, "Golf Saved My Life" by Max Adler in Golf Digest.
((Courtesy: Golf Digest))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

So I took a chance and I took one of the drawings and I sent it to the Golf Digest magazine and I said, "Hey, Max". I said, "This is what's going on with me. I'm in prison for a crime I didn't commit. I have all of this evidence, you know. But I don't have, you know, no help or no support."
((Courtesy: Golf Digest))
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

Because of his drawing and his artwork, he came to the attention of Golf Digest. And they launched on to this investigation, re-investigation of the case, which they'd never done before. And which resulted in a wonderful article in Golf Digest, which in, sort of an indictment of the criminal justice system, was the best encapsulation of the case.
((Courtesy: Strong Island Films))
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

There was also a student investigation from Georgetown involved and they also interviewed witnesses and obtained other information. All of it contributed.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

So five years go by and Georgetown gets involved. Marty Tankleff, who was a paralegal working on my case years earlier, had now become a Georgetown adjunct professor. And so his students decided they wanted to do a, use my case as a class project and do a documentary.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

This is the 12th hole of Augusta. This is the most famous, iconic hole in golf. This is the one that I gave to the warden and I gave it to him as a gift. A lot of people look at my work and they say, "Painting, painting, painting." But these are all pencil drawings. Everything I do is a color pencil drawing. So it takes many, many hours to layer so many colors on top of each other to give it that paint look, you know, to give it that, that photographic paint look. That's the goal. And I love it when people say “painting” because it's a compliment.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

Well, the first thing I do is, I have to like the course. It has to be a golf course that, you know, resonates with me and it captures my spirit. And then after that, I decide what color I'm going to do this course because I might want to do it in grays or I might want to do it in reds or I might want to do it in your traditional green golf course. You know, sometimes you want to be artistic. So I'll lay out all the colors. I'll take the color pencils, you know, and I'll pick which ones I believe, you know, I want to draw all the golf course in. And then I may take a yellow and put a yellow under the green and then use a darker green. So it’s many layers to what I do in order to get this effect.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I did an interview with HBO, which [former First Lady] Michelle Obama saw. And it captured her attention and she reached out to buy a piece of golf art for [former President] Barack Obama for Christmas.
((Courtesy: Instagram))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

The Instagram post of [former President] Barack Obama with the drawing that I drew was just awesome. I mean, it was the greatest feeling in the world.
I played golf about ten times since I've been released from prison. I've been to the Masters. I've met Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and…but I'm no good. I mean I've tried. I've taken lessons and I'm awful. But, you know, it's fun to do.
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

Despite his circumstances, he's one of the most positive people I've ever met.
((Courtesy: Valentino Dixon))
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

He is unrelentingly, aggressively positive and refuses to be otherwise, which I think has saved him. It's why he's notable today. You know, I don't know anyone else that has gotten out after that period of wrongful incarceration. And maybe there are people, I just haven't had contact with them, who don't have some bitterness and some anger. But he legitimately doesn't. And he is always looking to the next opportunity.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I make my living doing commissions. You know, I have a show called, "Draw and Talk with Me"
((Courtesy: Valentino Dixon))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

where I'll draw for just regular people and I teach them how to draw. And we talk about their careers. We talk about life, okay. So I have drawn with, you know, kids, policemen, school teachers, 20 people that have Parkinson's disease.

I started a foundation called the “Art of Freedom" to fight against wrongful conviction and sentencing guidelines in America, okay, which is the reason why we have mass incarceration because our sentencing guidelines are too harsh and excessive and it violates our Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.
So what I've tried to do is connect people with lawyers, good lawyers, and to give them the direction that they should take with the issues that they have.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all time, when he met me, he said I reminded him of Nelson Mandela because of my spirit, you know, because I'm not bitter, I'm not angry. You know, in life, we're all going to be tested with something and we don't get to decide the test.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Courtesy: Valentino Dixon))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

Artwork was a therapy for me in prison but for you it may be something else. We have, all have a gift. We all have a talent. Find out what your talent and your gift is, you know, and embrace it wholeheartedly. But this is what keeps the spirit alive in this world. It's a lot of challenges and you need something to keep that spirit going.
((MUSIC/NATS))

See comments

XS
SM
MD
LG