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The Power of Choice (VOA Connect Ep 209)


VOA – CONNECT
EPISODE # 209
AIR DATE: 01 14 2022
TRANSCRIPT

OPEN ((VO/NAT))
((Banner))
Healing Through Art
((SOT))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

Artwork was a therapy for me in prison but for you it may be something else. We all have a gift. We all have a talent. Find out what your talent and your gift is and embrace it wholeheartedly.
((Animation Transition))
((Banner))

Artistic Justice
((SOT))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

The lady whose chair I tried said to me, “A wheelchair is just a tool.” And that makes sense to me. It’s just a tool.
((Animation Transition))
((Banner))

Peaceful Living
((SOT))
((Dr. Jayesh Shah
President, Jain Center of Southern California))

Jain religion is thousands of years old, one of the oldest religions on this earth. It’s mainly based on non-violence.
Do not harm anyone.
((Open Animation))

BLOCK A


((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))


TEASE ((VO/NAT))
Coming up
((Banner))
Moving Forward
((SOT))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

I kept on having the vertigo and things would happen, like my hands starting not functioning well and I was doing sculpture and I couldn’t hold the tools and I was dropping them on my feet and those are really sharp. Finally, I am diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.


BREAK ONE
BUMP IN ((ANIM))



BLOCK B


((PKG)) WHEELCHAIR SKATEBOARDING
((TRT: 05:32))
((Topic Banner:
Freedom on Wheels))
((Reporter/Camera:
Genia Dulot))
((Map:
Los Angeles, California))
((Main character: 1
female))
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

So the thing about me is I don’t really see the coping. So it takes me a little bit to drop in. I need to feel it.
((Journalist))

And “drop in” meaning just….
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

Meaning you’ll see me do a wheelie and then I bring my back wheels all the way up to….this is the coping, before I drop in, which is pushing myself into the bowl. So I need to feel it in my body before I can go in.

((NATS/MUSIC))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

I kept on having the vertigo and things would happen, like my hands starting not functioning well and I was doing sculpture and I couldn’t hold the tools and I was dropping them on my feet and those are really sharp.
Finally, I am diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. So your brain doesn’t not communicate properly with, let’s say, your eyes or your legs or anything else. So the lady who’s chair I tried, said to me, “A wheelchair is just a tool.” And that made sense to me. It’s just a tool. And when I tell you that it took me probably a half an hour to walk a block and now, I can get around just like everybody else.
A wheelchair improved the quality of my life and it gave me a sport. It is like, I’m going to cry. It’s just, that moment was one of the best in my life.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

It feels like you are flying! When you do this thing without your hands, it feels really good.

The sport is actually called Wheelchair Motocross. These chairs are custom made for the sport. I tend to identify as a skateboarder because for me, it is about the community.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

I picked up skateboarding at age 55. Because you have a wheelchair doesn’t mean you can’t do an extreme sport. I just want people to see when I am out there, that this is possible. And it’s possible at 17. It’s possible at 20. It’s possible at 30. And darn it, it’s possible at 60.
((NATS: Go, Charlie, go! Come on, get that title!))
((NATS))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

This is a girl’s skate day. It’s a girl’s skate session. The women who started it, Anna and Sandy, asked if I would come. And it’s like I just fell in love because I love kids. I wasn’t able to have them, so I feel like every kid in the world is mine. And that’s boys and girls. But the girls are special.
As girls, well, I can only speak from my experience. I was told, you know, you don’t get dirty. You don’t do this. You don’t do that. But I was the kind of girl who did. And nowadays, girls are not only allowed to come out and shred but they are also allowed to be beautiful doing it. And we can get hurt and we can do extreme sports and we can still be beautiful in the end of the day.
((NATS))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

These girls need somebody besides their parents to tell them how awesome they are. And to be by their side. And just love on them. And I feel like I am a kind of a grandma figure, you know, the old lady in the wheelchair at the skatepark.
((NATS))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

So, you know, how when you stand at the top of things, they look really big? Like when you were standing at the top of the big bowl and you didn’t want to go in? So anytime you think that something is way, way over your head, it’s because you are looking at it from a different perspective. Sometimes, it’s like in life, you are looking at things from a different perspective, you come down to the bottom of it and look up and you think…. Look, it’s probably your height. It’s maybe what? A couple inches [centimeters] over your head?
((NATS))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

Of course, women need to help women. Girls need to start helping girls and we need to do it at a young age. And me, just kind of being here and kind of being out in the field and asking one girl to help another is how it starts. And then you see them later on helping each other and it becomes pretty magical.
((NATS))
((Tracie Garacochea
Adaptive Skateboarder))

Can you stand up? You’re okay? That was a nice fall and that was a really, really good try. I am proud of you.
((NATS/MUSIC))

TEASE ((VO/NAT))
Coming up
((Banner))
Jainism
((SOT))
((Christopher Jain Miller, PhD
Jain Studies Professor, Loyola Marymount))

The first thing you do is you set your intention to set your relationship right with the world. It’s going to ask you to consider to do your best, no matter what, to perfect the paramount virtue, which is, for Jains, a paramount virtue as well, of non-violence.


BREAK TWO
BUMP IN ((ANIM))



BLOCK C


((PKG)) JAINISM
((TRT: 05:34))
((Banner:
Faith))
((Topic Banner:
Jainism))
((Reporter/Camera:
Genia Dulot))
((Map:
Los Angeles, California))
((Main characters: 2
male))
((NATS))
((Dr. Jayesh Shah
President, Jain Center of Southern California))

Jain religion is thousands of years old, one of the oldest religions on this earth. There are three main tenets: Ahimsa means non-violence, Aparigraha means non-possessiveness and Anekantavada means multiple views. It’s mainly based on non-violence. Do not harm anyone. We feel that vegetables or trees have life. So we try to minimize violence whenever, wherever it’s possible. Respect each and every life on this universe.
((NATS))
((Christopher Jain Miller, PhD
Jain Studies Professor, Loyola Marymount))

Started as an undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University when I took my first Indic Religions course there. And we were asked during one of our writing assignments at home to write an essay about non-violence.
I was always just brought up eating whatever I wanted, which was always fast food, American fast food and all those kinds of things. Eating meat all the time, not even questioning it and then suddenly I was being asked to reflect on non-violence. While I was writing that paper, there was a spider crawling across the wall above my computer in my house. And I remember grabbing something and reaching back to swat the spider down and then right before I was about to hit the spider, I stopped and I said, “Wait a minute. I’m writing a paper about non-violence. I’m reflecting on non-violence.” And for the first time in my life, I finally realized that I had this insight that everything wants to live. This spider doesn’t want to die. It wants to live. And if I hit it and kill it, I’m taking that away from it.
((NATS))
((Christopher Jain Miller, PhD
Jain Studies Professor, Loyola Marymount))

There was that defining moment that planted a seed in me that will later grow into the rest of me sort of unfolding, becoming a vegetarian and eventually a vegan, all of which was really under the influence of Jain philosophy.
((Dr. Jayesh Shah
President, Jain Center of Southern California))

Crises comes. This is where Jain religion comes in the picture: that you could be right, I could be right, he could be right, she could be right, in their own way. I can give you simple example. There’s an elephant standing there. Four blind people. One is holding the trunk, one is holding the leg, one is holding the tail. Tail guy would say, “I’m holding a rope.” The other one say, “Oh, I’m holding a big pillar.” They are true in their own ways and that’s where this multiple view system comes in the picture.
There might be multiple reasons for conflict and turmoil going through this country and ego might be one of them or personal aspirations or personal expectations might be another one. But when you believe in Jain principles where you believe in Aparigraha or Anekantavada, that’s when you can win over other people and you can resolve the conflict. ((Christopher Jain Miller, PhD
Jain Studies Professor, Loyola Marymount))

Another perspective that comes out of this, all of this, is the concept of multiperspectivalism. This is often interpreted in modern Jainism as intellectual non-violence. It’s allowing others to have a perspective and respecting their perspective, even if it’s not the same as your own, unless, and this is the big unless, unless it incites violence or violence is involved. So it’s a general respect for other world views as part of an overall practice of non-violence and not saying, “You’re wrong. I’m right.”
((NATS))
((NATS: Christopher Jain Miller teaching))

The first thing you do in yoga is you set your intention to set your relationship right with the world. It’s going to ask you to consider to do your best, no matter what, to perfect the paramount virtue, which is, for Jains, a paramount virtue as well, of non-violence. You want to set your relationship to the world in a way where you are inflicting the least violence possible and always thinking about how can I reduce my violence on the world.
((Christopher Jain Miller, PhD
Jain Studies Professor, Loyola Marymount))

Over a very long period of time throughout my 20s and my 30s, I studied the Jain tradition and I studied the yoga tradition and then began to teach it. Over the course of the past several years, Jain donors in the United States in, I should say in North America, have come together and pooled their resources to create funded positions to teach Jain studies. They want students to be aware that being non-violent is even an option.
((NATS: Christopher Jain Miller teaching))
And then just begin to pay attention to your breath. Be thankful for your breath. So, we’re going to start the breathing exercise.
((Christopher Jain Miller, PhD
Jain Studies Professor, Loyola Marymount))

With all the things going on in the United States right now with politics, with violence, of course the message of non-violence brings something positive to think about, but even more specifically, the perspective of multiperspectivalism. Giving people a chance to voice what it is that they want to voice, as long as we’re willing to do it in a civil way that doesn’t eventually escalate into violence. And even in America, we have our own legacy of philosophies of free speech. John Stuart Mill and the idea that we should have free speech but that free speech, we should draw a line when that free speech attempts to incite violence.
((NATS))


CLOSING BUMPER ((ANIM))
voanews.com/connect


NEXT WEEK ((VO/NAT))
((Banner))
In coming weeks
Pandemic Bike
((SOT))
((NATS))
((Kellie Hart
Bike Store Owner))

Once the pandemic hit, I couldn't work out anymore. So, we wanted to pull our bikes out. I pulled mine out. It was a little rusty just because I'd had a kid and I just hadn't ridden for a long time. But I pulled it out, got it repaired and started riding, and I fell in love all over again.


BREAK THREE
BUMP IN ((ANIM))



SHOW ENDS

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